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date: 26 May 2022

Condell, Henryfree

(bap. 1576?, d. 1627)

Condell, Henryfree

(bap. 1576?, d. 1627)
  • Mary Edmond

Condell, Henry (bap. 1576?, d. 1627), actor and editor of Shakespeare's first folio, was probably born in East Anglia. The only Henry Condell so far discovered at a suitable date in that part of England was the son of a Robert Condell of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, a fishmonger, and his wife, Joan, née Yeomans, of New Buckenham, a market town not far from Norwich. Henry Condell, presumably their son, was baptized at St Peter on 5 September 1576: the theatrical Condell mentions in his will a deceased 'Cosen Gilder of New Buckenham'.

At some point Condell must have become stage-struck, perhaps when a small troupe employed by Ferdinando Lord Strange, and including Augustine Phillips and John Heminges, visited Norwich on 15 September 1593. On 24 October 1596, at St Laurence Pountney, near London Bridge, he married Elizabeth (d. 1635), the only child of John Smart of the Strand, a gentleman and man of property: soon, if not immediately, the couple became fellow parishioners of the Heminges family at St Mary Aldermanbury, which had strong links with the theatre. Both Heminges and Condell served as churchwarden—Heminges signing the register twice as second warden and three times as first, and Condell twice in 1617 as second warden. Nine children were born to the Condells there between 1599 and 1614, of whom only three survived infancy: Elizabeth, the third daughter of that name, baptized on 26 October 1606; Henry, baptized on 6 May 1610 (d. 1630); and William, baptized on 26 May 1611.

Condell is known to have played in Every Man in his Humour and Every Man out of his Humour, written for the Chamberlain's Men by Ben Jonson, in 1598 and 1599. In 1603 James I acceded to the English throne and the Chamberlain's Men became the King's Men; in their first licence, dated 19 May, Condell is named after Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Phillips, and Heminges. In the next, dated 27 March 1619, he is third after Heminges and Burbage and in fact came second, Burbage having died before the patent was in force. The King's Men, like the Chamberlain's Men, never provided lists of members or cast-lists: however, Condell is known to have acted in four more plays by JonsonSejanus, Volpone, The Alchemist, and Catiline—between 1603 and 1611, in addition, presumably, to all of Shakespeare's. He also played the Cardinal in the first performance of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, put on at Blackfriars probably in spring 1614; at a revival about 1621, when he was busy editing the Shakespeare folio, he was replaced by Richard Robinson—who married Richard Burbage's widow, Winifred, in 1622.

In the retrospective list of twenty-six 'Principall Actors' in all Shakespeare's plays in the first folio (the word ‘actor’ meaning all theatre men, not just performers) Condell is eighth. He was perhaps the principal player after Burbage, for when Phillips died in 1605 he left a will listing all members and associates of the company, beginning with Shakespeare and Condell and bequeathing them each a 30s. gold piece to buy a ring in his memory—a very common bequest at the time.

Condell and Heminges were uniquely qualified to edit Shakespeare's plays for the folio: they were the last surviving members of the original Chamberlain's Men established in 1594. They dedicated the folio to William, third earl of Pembroke, and Philip, earl of Montgomery and fourth earl of Pembroke, declaring that they had so much favoured the plays in performance and the author in his lifetime that the new volume 'ask'd' to be theirs. The editors' sole aim was to 'keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow alive, as was our SHAKESPEARE'—the 'our' emphasizing their admiration and love. It is sometimes supposed that the printers and publishers of the folio were also its editors, but they could not have matched Condell and Heminges in their long professional and personal association with the playwright—closely involved in each play from conception and casting, through rehearsals, to performance.

The scope and methods of the editors' attempts to 'collect' and 'gather' (their words) sources of information are the subject of ceaseless and highly conjectural study and debate. Their main source would have been Shakespeare's ‘foul papers’, the current term for an author's original manuscript, when available, as distinct from ‘fair copies’ (a phrase still in use)—these probably made by professional scribes. The term for the manuscript stage-text was ‘the book’: the ‘bookkeeper’ or ‘book-holder’, who was also the prompter, had to submit an authentic acting version to the master of the revels (as agent of the lord chamberlain) for endorsement: without the ‘approved book’ no performance was possible.

Individual plays could be bought and sold, and eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were printed in quarto before publication of the thirty-six in the folio. The folio provided eighteen more hitherto unpublished texts, plus (according to the editors) 'perfect' texts of imperfect quartos. Without their efforts the world would have been deprived of plays including The Tempest, Measure for Measure, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

In promoting their volume the editors claimed to have devoted much 'care, and paine' to correcting 'diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors' and to have restored the rest 'absolute in their numbers' as Shakespeare had 'conceived' them. E. K. Chambers once observed that an epistle is an advertisement rather than an affidavit: perhaps a little grudgingly he conceded that 'genuine pains' were taken to secure reliable texts. From 1608, when the King's Men were able to move into their walled and roofed Blackfriars playing-place, everything of value would have been kept there for safety, and everything in the open-air second Globe—apart from the theatre itself—survived the fire during a performance in 1613. Their rivals, the Admiral's Men, were 'utterly undone' when in 1621 their only playhouse, the open-air Fortune (close to the Barbican site) was 'burnt downe in two howres & all their apparrell & play-bookes lost' (The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. N. E. McClure, 1939, 2.415).

Like many men who had done well in the capital, Condell acquired a country house in later life. A number of riverside villages, upstream from London and Westminster, were especially popular: the Condells chose Fulham in Middlesex on the north bank. Both died there, but were buried at St Mary Aldermanbury, Henry on 29 December 1627, Elizabeth on 3 October 1635: they are entered in the register as 'Mr Condell' and 'Mrs Cundell', a mark of status. (The ‘u’ sometimes appearing in the name probably indicates its pronunciation.) As a man of extensive properties and part ownership of the Globe and Blackfriars, Condell appointed four overseers of his will, including Heminges and Richard Burbage's elder brother Cuthbert; he expressed the wish to be buried 'decentlie in the night tyme' (Honigmann and Brock, 156–60). His well-to-do widow wished no part of her estate to be 'prodigally spent, nor lewdly wasted' by her son William (ibid., 182–6). She bequeathed her executors, Burbage and Thomas Seaman, £10 each for their pains, and wished Seaman to have all her books—including, no doubt, a copy of the Shakespeare folio.

St Mary Aldermanbury was destroyed in the fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, but almost destroyed again in 1940 by enemy air attack which flattened much of this part of the City. The site is now a garden, with a bust of Shakespeare surrounded by flowering trees and shrubs. Inscriptions on the base recall the achievement of the two former long-term parishioners who, with no thought of profit or fame, collected Shakespeare's dramatic writings and gave them to the world: 'they thus merited the gratitude of mankind'.


  • E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, 2 vols. (1939), vol. 2, pp. 72, 75, 77, 170, 228–30
  • M. Eccles, ‘Elizabethan actors, I: A–D’, N&Q, 236 (1991), 38–49, esp. 44–5
  • parish register, St Mary Aldermanbury, GL, MS 3572/1 [burial], 29 Dec 1627
  • parish register, St Laurence Pountney, 24 Oct 1596, GL, MS 7670 [marriage]
  • E. A. J. Honigmann and S. Brock, eds., Playhouse wills, 1558–1642: an edition of wills by Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the London theatre (1993)

Wealth at Death

obviously a man of means; theatre interests, and props, some derived from wife; also country house at Fulham

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Guildhall Library, London
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Norfolk Record Office, Norwich