Children of Paul's

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The Children of Paul's was the name of a troupe of boy actors in Elizabethan and Jacobean London. Along with the Children of the Chapel, they were the most important of the companies of boy players that constituted a distinctive feature of English Renaissance theatre.

St. Paul's Cathedral in London had a boys' choir since the 12th century; it was only in the 16th century that they began to act in dramatic performances. Sebastian Westcott was Master of the Children of Paul's in the years 1557–82; in his era, the boys performed 27 times at court, more than any other troupe, adult or child. In 1560-1572 Master of the Revels Sir Thomas Benger used them throughout his tenure, as later mentioned in William Shakespeare' play Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2. Under Master Thomas Giles (1584–99?), the Children of Paul's became closely identified with the plays of John Lyly; they performed at Court nine times in the years 1587–90. The boys acted Lyly's Gallathea at Court, probably on 1 January 1588; they acted his Endymion at Court a month and a day later, on 2 February; and his Midas on 6 January 1590.[1] Other of Lyly's plays, Mother Bombie and Love's Metamorphosis, were also presented at Court in these years.

Also in the 1580s the Children of Paul's joined the Children of the Chapel in public performances at the first Blackfriars Theatre (1583–4), a foretaste of the period of public performance that was to follow for both companies at the start of the 17th century.

In 1590, however, the Children of Paul's were banned from dramatic performance; they had become involved in the Marprelate controversy through Lyly's actions. For the next ten years the boy companies were out of fashion on the stage.

By 1600, conditions had changed; a new Master, Edward Peers (d.1612),[2] allowed the Children of Paul's to resume acting, and apparently faced no significant opposition. The anonymous plays The Maid's Metamorphosis and The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll illustrate the kind of drama the boys acted in their first year. The Children of Paul's performed the works of John Marston, George Chapman, and Thomas Middleton, among other dramatists of their generation. Marston was mainly identified with the Children of Paul's, as Jonson was identified with the Children of the Chapel; in the Poetomachia, the War of the Theatres of 1599–1601, the Children of Paul's acted Marston's side of the contest, with the plays Jack Drum's Entertainment (1600) and What You Will (1601), plus Thomas Dekker's Satiromastix (1601).

However, unlike the Children of the Chapel, who worked in the second Blackfriars Theatre, the Children of Paul's had no dedicated theatrical space of their own; when they weren't playing at Court, they acted in the church where they trained as choristers – St Gregory by St Paul's Church, just to the southwest of St Paul's Cathedral. This tended to limit their drama; sometimes plays had to be cut short to accommodate the schedules of the religious institutions in the middle of which the boy players operated.

The Children of Paul's ceased playing around 1606, for unclear reasons. Some scholars have believed that the King's Revels Children, another company that formed c. 1606, might have been, to some significant degree, the Children of Paul's under another name; but this is uncertain. (The King's Revels Children never gelled as an enterprise; they collapsed in litigation among their backers in 1609.)


  1. ^ Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 18
  2. ^ Parish registers of St Gregory by St Paul, London. The full entry reads: "Edward Pierce, maister of the Children of Paules, buried 15 June 1612".


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.