Anthony Jeffes

Date of birth unknown. Early in 1592 Shakespeare seems to have had twins in mind when he wrote – quite unhistorically – Joan of Arc and Margaret of Anjou into the final battle of 1 Henry VI  (5 ; 3). And as twins the Jeffes brothers would have made the perfect boy player to write some exceptional woman’s parts on. The ladies concerned went – according to The Complete Oxford Shakespeare  – to stage in this order :
1591 : …. Queen Margaret  (2 Henry VI )
1591 : …. Queen Margaret  (3 Henry VI )
1592 : …. Joan la Pucelle     (1 Henry VI )
1592 : …. Queen Margaret  (Richard III )
The short final part is in comparison a piece of cake, and specifically written for a skilled boy player of former beauty. La Pucelle, on the other hand, is by looks charming enough. But in a rather boyish way, which effectively  immunizes her for an unfeminine voice. Richard III apparently features the same boy(s) in a last stand as a woman. With the remark that a persistent plague ban (June 1592 – summer 1594) may have prevented the scheduled launch of this play at The Theatre.

2 Henry VI shows Queen Margaret as a beauty in a part that is much more difficult to master than Romeo. And with monologues that are long enough to suggest a mature performer. Twins of seventeen or eighteen would in a combined effort certainly have pulled it off, and at sixteen probably as well, but trebles of fifteen seem a little overburdened.

The Queen Margaret of 3 Henry VI is equally demanding, with even longer monologues. Which suggests the part to have been written for the same performer(s) with improved skills. However, Margaret is now the She-wolfe of France ; a very different personality. And the 1595 Octavo presents the play as it has been performed by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men.

According to Andrew Gurr, the Pembroke’s Men was set up in 1591 – 92 by James Burbage to fill gaps in his scheduled performances. If so, he created in the process the opportunity for Shakespeare to write a single play in two parts for different companies ; in the continuum of eight history plays, only the division between 2 and 3 Henry VI is located on a seamless transition. In this scenario the disadvantage of an entirely different cast is balanced by the opportunity to watch the complete show in two subsequent afternoons. While Burbage’s new company may have relied on the old one for boy players. Not to mention the possibility that the few characters who are in both parts were assigned to dual performers who played alternatingly in both productions.