Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Condell, Henry (d.1627)

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CONDELL, HENRY (d. 1627), actor and one of the two editors of the first folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, was one of the ten 'principal comedians' performing in Ben Jonson's 'Every Man in his Humour,' 1598, and 'Every Man out of his Humour,' 1599. The names only of the actors in these plays, and not the parts played by each, are supplied by the old lists; but Mr. J. P. Collier has suggested that Condell created the part of Captain Bobadil. In the 'plat,' or programme (dating before 1589), of Tarleton's 'Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins' [see Tarleton, Richard] the rôle of Ferrex is assigned to 'Harry,' and Steevens identified the actor with Condell. Although this identification is highly doubtful, the fact of Condell's appearance in Jonson's comedies is proof that he had many years' experience as an actor at the close of the sixteenth century. A statement made in 1729 that Condell was originally a printer is entirely unconfirmed by contemporary evidence. With Shakespeare and Burbage, Condell was a member of the company of players known as the lord chamberlain's men at the end of Elizabeth's reign; and when in May 1603 this company was formally enrolled as 'the king's servants,' Condell's name stood sixth on the list of members. In 1599 Richard Burbage [q. v.] and his brother Cuthbert built the Globe Theatre. Condell became 'a partner in the profits' of that theatre, and his prominence in the lord chamberlain's company also secured for him an important share in the profits of the Blackfriars Theatre. In 1604 Condell acted in Marston's 'Malcontent;' in Webster's 'Induction' to that play he is brought on the stage, together with Burbage, Lowin, and other actors, under his own name, and several speeches are assigned him. He acted in Ben Jonson's ‘Sejanus,’ 1603, in his ‘Volpone,’ 1605, in his ‘Alchemist,’ 1610, and in his ‘Catiline,’ 1611, and his name appears in the lists of actors who took leading parts in Shakespeare's and Beaumont and Fletcher's chief plays. In 1613 he was acting at the Globe in ‘All is True’ (probably identical with ‘Henry VIII’) when the playhouse caught fire. In the ballad issued to commemorate the event, the two lines—

The riprobates, thoughe drunk on Munday,
Pray'd for the foole and Henry Condye—

refer to Condell. The rôle of the Cardinal in Webster's ‘Duchess of Malfi’ was frequently filled by him before 1623. On 27 March 1618–19 a new patent to his company places his name third on the list, John Heming [q.v.] and Richard Burbage (then just dead) alone preceding it. When Charles I renewed the company's privileges on his accession to the throne in 1625, Condell is the second actor named. Condell is traditionally associated with leading comic parts, but it is probable that he occasionally appeared in tragedy.

Condell's theatrical engagements brought him into close relations with Shakespeare. In the great dramatist's will, dated 5 March 1615–16, 26s. 8d. is bequeathed to ‘my fellowes, John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell … to buy them ringes.’ In 1623 Heming and Condell combined to do their friend's memory the justice of publishing the first collected edition of his plays. They both sign the dedication to the brothers, William, earl of Pembroke, and Philip, earl of Montgomery. ‘We have but collected them [i.e. the plays],’ they write, ‘and done an office to the dead to procure his orphans guardians, without ambition otherwise of selfe-profit, only to keepe the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive, as was our Shakespeare, by humble offer of his playes to your most noble patronage.’ An address ‘to the great variety of readers,’ signed by both Heming and Condell, follows; here they express regret that Shakespeare had not lived to supervise the printing of his work, and remark that the manuscripts, which are in their keeping, have ‘scarce … a blot’ or erasure upon them. Their full recognition of Shakespeare's pre-eminence is the most remarkable characteristic of their compositions.

Condell was prosperous in his profession, and while actively engaged in it lived in a house of his own in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury. He was ‘sidesman’ there in 1606. About 1623 he retired from the stage. In 1625, while the plague was raging in London, Thomas Dekker issued a biting prose satire on those who had fled from the infection, entitled ‘A Rod for Run-aways.’ An anonymous reply was issued immediately, entitled ‘The Run-aways' Answer,’ with a dedication ‘to our much respected and very worthy friend, Mr. H. Condell, at his country house at Fulham.’ The writers, whose initials only are appended to the dedication, state that they are actors who have been assailed by Dekker with especial fury, that they left London on a professional tour, and not from fear of the plague, and that Condell, whom they beg to arbitrate between themselves and Dekker, entertained them royally before their departure. Condell remained at his country house at Fulham till his death, which took place in December 1627. He was buried in the church of St. Mary Aldermanbury on 29 Dec. According to his will, where he styles himself ‘gentleman’ and spells his name Cundell, he owned, besides his shares in the Blackfriars and Globe theatres and his dwelling-houses at Fulham and Aldermanbury, land and tenements in Helmet Court, Strand, in the parish of St. Bride, Fleet Street, and in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury; John Heming and Cuthbert Burbage were two of the overseers of his will. His widow was executrix and chief legatee.

Condell married before 1599. Nothing is known of his wife except that her name was Elizabeth, and that she was buried at St. Mary Aldermanbury on 3 Oct. 1635. Entries in the registers of St. Mary's Church show that Condell had nine children baptised there between 27 Feb. 1598[9] and 22 Aug. 1614, but only three, Henry, William, and Elizabeth, survived their father. The daughter married Herbert Finch, and Henry died in March 1629–30.

[Collier's Lives of the Actors (Shakespeare Soc.), reprinted without alteration in Collier's Hist. Dramatic Poetry, iii. 370–9; Variorum Shakespeare, ed. Boswell, 1821, iii.; Fleay's Actor Lists in Transactions of Royal Historical Society, ix.; Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of Life of Shakespeare; John Marston's Works, ed. Bullen, i.]

S. L. L.