Dulwich residents honour 400th anniversary of Bard’s top actor Richard Burbage

pic above: Richard Burbage by an unidentified painter – www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk 

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

Shakespeare wrote classic tragic roles for him. He moved the Globe Theatre from Shoreditch to Bankside.

Now residents of a road named after one of the most famous actors of the Bard’s day are to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Burbage, on Thursday.

People living in Burbage Road, Dulwich, are following in his footsteps, with a walk setting off from his resting place in St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, east London.

Their journey will commemorate his decision to remove ‘The Theatre’ from Shoreditch to Bankside, rebuilding it as the Globe Theatre.

Louise Wood, chairwoman of the Burbage Road Residents’ Association, said: “Initially the aim was to make sure that every household knew the story of the man who gave his name to the road.

“We’ve especially valued involving around 100 young local people through our partnerships with the Globe and the Museum of London Archaeology.

“This has given us the opportunity to bring the message to those in Southwark, home of great Shakespearian theatre.

“Our project has quickly evolved into an enthusiastic arrangement with Andrew Dickson, author of Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare’s Globe, the Globe Theatre and St Leonards Church, Burbage’s final resting place.

Burbage’s move south of the Thames came about when his Shoreditch landlord refused to renew the lease of the Theatre site.

So at Christmas 1598, under cover of darkness, him and his brother Cuthbert, Shakespeare and their friends took down their wooden theatre plank by plank, ferried it across the river to the South Bank and reconstructed it as The Globe.

Cuthbert and Richard set up an innovative system of theatre management. Burbage was performing at the Globe Theatre on June 29, 1613 when it caught fire and burned down.

Burbage, who was also an accomplished artist, was the star of William Shakespeare’s theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which became the King’s Men on the ascension of James I in 1603.

He played the title role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet, Othello, Richard III, and King Lear.

He acted with the King’s Men until his death, in 1619, which sparked so much grief that it threatened to overshadow the official mourning for the death of Queen Anne 10 days before.

His gravestone, now lost, was said to read “Exit Burbage”– also the name given to the festival of his 400th anniversary by residents.

Mr Dickson said: “Without Burbage’s toughness, his personal connections, his money and his instinct for collaborative working, it is hard to see how Shakespeare could have thrived in the London theatre in the way that he did.”

Residents have also contributed to restoring the Richard Burbage picture at its home in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which lies at the end of Burbage Road, Dulwich.

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