On 8 February 1601 the Earl of Essex staged an uprising against the Queen in London. His supporters commissioned a performance of a play ‘of King Richard II’, in all likelihood Shakespeare’s; it was performed at the Globe theatre by the King’s men the day before the uprising.
In Shakespeare’s play, Richard’s increasingly autocratic behaviour drives his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), to lead a rebellion, forcing Richard to renounce the throne. By choosing to request a performance of this play, supporters of Essex could have been accused of drawing parallels between the two monarchs.
The performance at the Globe was investigated by the Queen’s advisors. Here you can see the examination of Augustine Phillips, one of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He claimed that the players had been reluctant to perform the play, as newer works were more popular; they demanded an additional 40 shillings.
The rebellion failed, and Essex was executed. Augustine Phillips and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men escaped punishment and performed for the Queen on the eve of Essex’s execution on 25 February 1601.
(The National Archives: SP 12/278)