Richard Burbage (1567-1619) was one of Shakespeare’s closest associates and his partner in their many theatre activities. They were joint owners of The Globe Theatre, together with John Heminges, Augustine Phillips and Thomas Pope. Shakespeare left him twenty-six shillings and eightpence in his will to buy a ring.
Like his friend William Shakespeare, Burbage was multi-talented. He was a theatre entrepreneur and artist, but he is most famous as an actor – one of the leading actors of his time. While Shakespeare wrote the great plays for the Chamberlaine’s Men and later the King’s Men, Burbage starred for the company and played the great leading roles of Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. This didn’t stop Burbage also appearing in various productions of Shakespeare’s contemporaries – Johnson et al. Some four centuries before the emergence of an acting style known as ‘method acting,’ where the actor assumes a role and lives it out in his daily life, Burbage had adopted that approach.
He was the son of theatre builder, James Burbage, and Richard, his father, and his brother Cuthbert, worked together to develop London’s theatre world. It was only later that Shakespeare joined them, and eventually they all became rich, owning two of London’s most popular theatres.
Burbage was also successful as a painter and some scholars believe that he painted the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare.
He retired in his late thirties, having accomplished a great deal in his life, and died in 1619. He is buried in St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. The inscription on his tombstone reads ‘Exit Burbage.’
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