Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Heming, John

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HEMING or HEMMINGE, JOHN (d. 1630), actor, and one of the two editors of the first folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, is supposed by Malone to have been born about 1556 at Shottery, near Stratford-on-Avon. These conjectures rest on the fact that two families of the name of Heming, both of them owning a John, lived in Shottery early in the reign of Elizabeth, and on the application to Hemminge of the term ‘old’ by Ben Jonson in his masque of ‘Christmas,’ presented at court in 1616 (Jonson, Works, ed. 1816, vii. 277). Jonson speaks of Heming as if he exercised quasi-managerial functions, probably those of treasurer, in connection with the king's company (known before James's reign as the lord chamberlain's men). A council warrant, dated 2 Oct. 1599, directed the payment of 30l. (of which 10l. was an additional douceur) to Heming and Pope ‘for three interludes or playes played before her Matie on St. Stephens daye at night, New-years daye at night, and Shroutewsday at night last past’ (Extracts from Accounts of Court Revels, Shakesp. Soc., ed. Cunningham, p. xxxii). A similar sum was paid to John Hemynges and Richard Cowley, 31 March 1601(–2), and entries of the kind continue until 1618. That his duties were largely financial may be gathered, too, from the fact that he is associated with comparatively few characters. Malone states that in a tract, the name of which he had forgotten, Heming ‘is said to have been the original performer of Falstaff.’ John Roberts, in ‘An Answer to Mr. Pope's preface to Shakespeare. By a Strolling Player,’ 1729, says that he was a tragedian, and that in conjunction with Condell he followed the business of printing, statements of which there is no confirmation. In his will he describes himself a citizen and grocer of London. Heming played in the ‘First Part of King Henry IV,’ and in many plays of Ben Jonson, including ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ ‘Every Man out of his Humour,’ ‘Sejanus,’ ‘Volpone,’ and ‘The Alchemist.’ An uncomplimentary allusion to him in a ‘Sonnett upon the pittiful burning of the Globe Playhouse in London’ in 1613 casts some doubt upon his histrionic capacity. Two lines of the sonnet run:—

Then with swolne eyes, like druncken Flemminges,
Distressed stood old stuttering Heminges

(Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, i. 285, ed. 1886).

Before Elizabeth's death Heming was principal proprietor of the Globe playhouse. In the new license granted by James I to the players then known as the king's company, 17 May 1603, the name of ‘John Henninges’ stands fifth, Shakespeare and Burbage standing respectively second and third, while Condell stands sixth (ib. ii. 82). In a second authentic patent, dated 27 March 1619, his name stands first. A statement that he, together with Burbage, was summoned on 15 March 1615 before the privy council, in his capacity of leader and representative of the company, for having disobeyed the injunction of the lord chamberlain by playing in Lent, seems to rest on the testimony of Collier. He was for many years before 1616 closely associated with Shakespeare, who bequeathed ‘to my fellowes, John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell, xxvj's viijd a peece to buy them ringes.’

His chief fame rests on the publication by himself and Condell in 1623 of the first collected edition of Shakespeare. He signs first the dedication to the brothers William, earl of Pembroke, and Philip, earl of Montgomery, and the address ‘to the great variety of readers’ [see under Condell, Henry, d. 1627]. From this time he is supposed to have ceased to act, though his name appears in 1625 as a member of the company. He was, with Cuthbert Burbage and others, an overseer of the will of his friend Condell, and received for the service 5l. to buy a piece of plate. He died 10 Oct. 1630 at his house in Aldermanbury, Malone suspects of the plague, and was buried on the 12th. His will, which is given in full by Malone and by Collier, was signed on the 11th. In this he speaks of the several parts which he has by lease in the playhouses of the Globe and Blackfriars.

John Hemminge, gent., of St. Michael, Cornhill, obtained a license (5 March 1587–8) to marry, at St. Mary's, Aldermanbury, Rebecca Knell, widow, relict of William Knell, gent., late of St. Mary's, Aldermanbury (Chester, London Marriage Licences). Mrs. Knell was widow of William Knell, the comedian mentioned with applause by Thomas Heywood (Apology for Actors, p. 43, ed. Shakespeare Society). His wife having died and been buried in St. Mary's, Aldermanbury, 2 Sept. 1619, he left his property, charged with certain bequests, among his descendants. During their thirty-two years' joint residence in the parish of St. Mary's, Aldermanbury, Heming and his wife had a large family. The parish registers supply entries of the baptism of eight daughters and five sons between 1 Nov. 1590 and 21 June 1611, and of the burial of two of these daughters and one of the sons as infants. Besides these children a daughter Margaret is mentioned in his will, and Malone mentions another, Beatrice, while Synnerton, an infant, whom Collier declares to have been the last child, was buried 8 June 1613. The son, William Heming, who was left sole executor, is separately noticed.

[John Payne Collier's Annals of the Stage, 1879, supplies full but often untrustworthy particulars concerning Heming. See further Malone's Historical Account of the English Stage, 1800; Chalmers's Supplement; Variorum Shakespeare, vol. iii.; Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, and Cunningham's Accounts of the Revels at Court give further information. Mr. Fleay's paper on the ‘Actor Lists,’ Royal Historical Society's Transactions, 1881, ix. 44–81; Warner's Cat. of Dulwich MSS.; Genest's Account of the English Stage; and Baker, Reed, and Jones's Biographia Dramatica, may also be consulted.]

J. K.