Publication Date



Henry IV, Richard the Third


The Elizabethan government used companies of travelling players to serve a number of intelligence functions, which extended to the surveillance of audiences during performances. This surveillance was facilitated by the discursive instabilities of their plays and the architecture of the spaces in which they were performed. Surveillance by travelling players was part of an essentially colonial project in which the crown sought to extend its power and increase its visibility while attempting to fashion a nationalist, pro-Protestant, pro-Tudor identity in the provinces. To consider these dynamics, this article considers two conjectured performances. First, Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV performed by the Chamberlain’s Men at the New Hall in Norwich, which was the center of a socially, religiously, and economically divided region. Harry and his band’s surveillance of commoners in order to exploit “their Saint the Common-wealth” exposes the status of these fissures to the view of the Chamberlain’s Men. Second, The True Tragedie of Richard the Third performed by the Queen’s Men at the Common Hall in York, a recusant bastion historically friendly to Richard. While the play represents Richard as a spying villain, it also offers a subversive counter-narrative of Richard through his Page that facilitates observation of the audience.