It is a matter of great pride that the support and patronage of my ancestors enabled Shakespeare to begin a career that would make him the world’s greatest playwright. I ask all who read this to join me in building The Playhouse and the International College at Shakespeare North near the home where my family still live.

Edward Stanley The 19th Earl of Derby

In 1592 Shakespeare’s first history play was performed at the Rose Theatre in London. He was writing for a troupe of players called Strange’s Men, who took their name from their sponsor, Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, who was to become the Fifth Earl of Derby.

Strange’s Men had also performed at Knowsley Hall (bordering Prescot): their home base. The story of Shakespeare, Strange’s Men, the Earls of Derby and the people of Prescot and Knowsley are interwoven at this point. Shakespeare may have written Richard III and Titus Andronicus for Strange’s Men, together with The Taming of the Shrew and Love’s Labour’s Lost to honour his patron. A Midsummer Night’s Dream may have been written to mark the wedding of the Sixth Earl of Derby, William.

Those who lived at Knowsley Hall were not the only ones to reap the benefits. A few miles away on the edge of the estate’s deer park, in the market town of Prescot, the first Elizabethan indoor theatre in Britain outside London, was built. This structure, a hugely significant development in the evolution of drama, was simply called The Playhouse.

Shakespeare image © The National Portrait Gallery

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