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John Heminges (sometimes spelled Heming, Heminge, Hemminge or Hemings) (bapt. 25 November 1556 – 10 October 1630) was an English Renaissance actor. Most noted now as one of the editors of William Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio, Heminges served in his time as an actor and financial manager for the King's Men.
Heminges was baptised at Droitwich, Worcestershire, on 25 November 1556. Sent to London at age twelve, he was apprenticed for nine years to the London Grocer, John Collins, becoming a freeman of the Company on 24 April 1587. On 10 March 1588 he received licence to marry Rebecca Knell (née Edwards), the widow of William Knell, an actor with the Queen's Men who had been killed at Thame, Oxfordshire, in 1587 by John Towne, a fellow actor. Heminges and his sixteen-year-old wife settled in the parish of St Mary Aldermanbury, and had at least thirteen children there between the years 1590 and 1613.
Heminges' association with the theatre had begun 1593, when he and Augustine Phillips were with Lord Strange's Men. By the next year he and Phillips had joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men. Heminges remained with the Company until his death. Privy Council records from 1630 state that he received £100 to relieve the Company during a period of plague.
Heminges remained active in the Grocerys' Company alongside his theatrical activities; indeed, the two sometimes intertwined. On 13 December 1608 he was admitted as one of the ten seacoal-meters for the city of London, citizens appointed to measure the coal imported into London by sea. Shortly afterwards he took on John Jackson as his deputy. Both Heminges and Jackson later acted as trustees for William Shakespeare when he purchased the Blackfriars Gatehouse in 1613. Between 1595 and 1628 Heminges took on ten apprentices with the Grocers' Company. Of these ten, eight appear to have performed for Heminges' company, in both boys' and adult roles. Alexander Cooke was one of his apprentices. Heminges also built and operated a taphouse at the Globe.
Heminges was mentioned in Shakespeare's will along with Richard Burbage and Henry Condell, each was bequeathed 26 shillings and eightpence to buy mourning rings in his memory. Burbage died before the publication of the First Folio, but Heminges and Condell acted as ostensible co-editors and mentioned in their epistle to "the great Variety of Readers" the "care, and paine" they took to collect the works, since the author had not "liv'd to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings". Their editorial efforts were vital to preserving a number of Shakespeare's plays, some of which might have been lost otherwise.
Due to his intimate involvement in the creation of the First Folio, readers have found it both tempting and easy to idealise Heminges; one early critic, exercising more admiration than objectivity, wrote that "He was a fine actor, a trustworthy man, and had a good head for business. Until his death, he managed the company's financial affairs with extraordinary success." A darker picture of Heminges emerged when American researcher Charles William Wallace discovered the records of the lawsuit Ostler v. Heminges (1615). When King's Man William Ostler died intestate in 1614, his property should have passed to his widow, Thomasine Heminges Ostler. But the widow's father, John Heminges, seized control of his late son-in-law's shares in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres. Thomasine sued her father to regain her property. The surviving records do not specify the final outcome of the suit, though it appears that Heminges managed to retain control of the shares. At his death, his shares in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres passed to his son, William Heminges.
The extent and nature of Heminges' acting is not entirely clear. He is known to have performed in Ben Jonson's Sejanus and Every Man in His Humour (in both cases, alongside Shakespeare). A Jacobean inscription in the 1616 Jonson folio lists him playing the role of Corbaccio in Volpone; since the same list includes Nathan Field, who did not join the King's Men until 1616, it seems that Heminges continued to act, at least intermittently, into his fifties. Edmond Malone reported seeing Heminges' name associated with the role of Falstaff; there is, however, no other evidence exists of this connection. There is little more evidence to substantiate the claim later made by an actor to Alexander Pope that Heminges was a tragedian. Of his activities as manager more is known. Court documents relating to the King's Men generally list Heminges as the recipient of money due the company; the records of Henry Herbert indicate that Heminges at least sometimes served as the point of contact between the company and the Master of the Revels. He appears to have owned a structure abutting the Globe Theatre, which may have been used as an alehouse. He served as trustee for Shakespeare when the latter purchased a house in Blackfriars in 1613.
- Edmond, Mary (2004). "Heminges, John (bap. 1566, d. 1630)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12890. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Gurr, Andrew (2004). The Shakespeare Company, 1594–1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 230. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- Kathman, David (2004). "Grocers, Goldsmiths, and Drapers: Freemen and Apprentices in the Elizabethan Theater". Shakespeare Quarterly 55. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 1–49. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
- Collier, J. P.. Lives of the Original Actors in Shakespeare's Plays. London: Shakespeare Society, 1853.
- Egan, Gabriel. "John Heminges' Tap-house at the Globe." Theatre Notebook 55 (2001), 72–7.
- Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
- Nunzeger, Edwin. A Dictionary of Actors and of Other Persons Associated With the Public Presentation of Plays in England Before 1642. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929.
- Works by John Heminges at Project Gutenberg
- John Heminges at the Globe Theatre
- Theatre Notebook
- Find-A-Grave profile for John Heminge