It is well ascertained that Burbage played Jeronimo in Kyd’s bombastic tragedy of the name, which was produced about the time of the Spanish Armada. At the close of the succeeding decade Burbage had gained the sobriquet of ‘Roscius,’ and had outstripped in popularity all his contemporaries on the stage. Except for the mention of his name in a document dated 4 Nov. 1590, and connected with the lawsuit respecting the claim of the Braynes to share in the protits of The Theatre [see under Burbage, James], there is little contemporary evidence concerning Burbage’s theatrical career before 1603. Infomation of a later date partly supplies the hiatus, but the student must he warned against the forged documents of 1589, 1596, and the following years in the State Paper Office, and the Ellesmere collection (see infra), which have been too often relied onto give substance to Burbage's biography. We only reach firm gound among the theatrical documents of the day in a warrant (issued under the privy seal on 17 May 1603) authorising the lord chamberlain’s players—the company in highest repute at the time—to act what plays they leased at the Globe and elsewhere. This document gives the names of the actors in the company, and that of Burbage stands third on the list, Lawrence Fletcher and `William Shakespeare preceding it. Burbage’s position justifies the conjecture-otherwise well supported-that he had been connected with the lord chamber1ain's men, subsequently called the king’s men, and originally called Lord Strange’s company, from 1593.
There is evidence to show that the death of Burbage’s father in 1597 left him with his brother Cuthbert and a sister proprietors of the Blackfriars Theatre. In 1635, many years after Ricbard’s death, a dispute arose as to the ownership of the theatre, and Cuthbert, who survived his brother, together with Richard’s living representative, stated to the lord chamberlain (the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery) that the Blackfriars was the lawful inheritance of the two brothers and sister ; that they leased it out at first to the ‘Queene’s Majesties Children of the Chappell,' but soon afterwards bou ht out the lessees, and installed in it thelord chamberlain’s company, to which Burbage belonged. The chief members of this company, including Shakespeare, acquired shares in theprofits of the playhouse, but throughout his life Richard Burbage apparently reserved a very large share for himself 'ldle Blackfriars Theatre was not the only playhouse which James Burbage owned at his death. The Theatre in Shoreditch was also for a while the property of his heirs, but in 1599 Richard and Cuthbert, harassed by the hostility of Giles Allen, the lessor of the ground on which the theatre stood, demolished the building with the aid of Peter Street, a carpenter, and removed the ‘wood and timber’ to Southwark, where they utilised the material in the erection of the Globe, which was to be a summer playhouse, while the Blackfriars was to become exclusively a winter playhouse. In the subsequent lawsuit brought against Street and the two Burbages by Giles Allen, Richard seems to have left a the management of the business to Cuthbert, and the result is unknown. Richard evidently borrowed money to pay the expenses of building the Globe, and & loan ‘lay heavy on him many years.' He joined with him as sharers in the profits of the undertaking Shakespeare, Hemming, Condell, and others. But the distribution was not sufficiently well defined to prevent serious disputes arising later among the heirs of the original sharers.
At the Blackfriars house or at its near ally, the Globe, Burhage made his substantial fame, and it is clear that between 1595 and the year of his death (1618) every dramatist desired his services when producing a play for the tirsttime. All the greatest parts of the contemporary stage were filled by him in turn. The exact date at which he first came into contact with Shakespeare is not known. The story of their friendship as boys at Stratford-on-Avon may safely he cast aside, and there is no proof of their connection with the same company of actors until after 1594. In Manningham's ‘Diary’ (p. 39), under date 13 March 1601, is a story which is commonly quoted to attest their intimacy at that date. During a performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III,' in which Burbage took the part of the hero, the actor made an assignation with a woman in the audience, and Shakespeare is stated to have overheard the conversation and to have anticipated his friend in his visit to the woman's house. All the versions of the poetical epitaph on Burbage which wc describe below ooncur in assigning to him the parts of Hamlet, Lear, and Othello. Wright in his ‘Historia Histrionica,' 1699, states that Joseph Taylor was the original Hamlet, but the evidence against this assertion is overwhelming. Burbage would also seem to have taken part in ‘Love’s Labour's lost.’ Sir Walter Cope, writing to Sir Robert Cecil at Hatfield early in 1605, states that Burbage has proposed to play that comedy at court before the queen, and that he has sent the actor to Hatfield to know Cecil’s leasure. Burbage's impersonation of Richard III was highly popular. Of the striking impression made by the actor in the