James Burbage (d. 1597), English actor, is said to have been born at Stratford-on-Avon. He was a member of the earl of Leicester's players, probably for several years before he is first mentioned (1574) as being at the head of the company. In 1576, having secured the lease of land at Shoreditch, Burbage erected there the successful house which was known for twenty years as The Theatre from the fact that it was the first ever erected in London. He seems also to have been concerned in the erection of a second theatre in the same locality, the Curtain, and later, in spite of all difficulties and a great deal of local opposition, he started what became the most celebrated home of the rising drama, - the Blackfriars theatre, built in 1596 near the old Dominican friary.
His son Richard Burbage (c. 1567-1619), more celebrated than his father, was the Garrick of the Elizabethan stage, and acted all the great parts in Shakespeare's plays. He, too, is said to have been born at Stratford-on-Avon, and made his first appearance at an early age at one of his father's theatres. He had established a reputation by the time he was twenty, and in the next dozen years was the most popular English actor, the "Roscius" of his day. At the time of his father's death, a lawsuit was in progress against the lessor from whom James Burbage held the land on which The Theatre stood. This suit was continued by Richard and his brother Cuthbert, and in 1569 they pulled down the Shoreditch house and used the materials to erect the Globe theatre, famous for its connexion with Shakespeare. They occupied it as a summer playhouse, retaining the Blackfriars, which was roofed in, for winter performances. In this venture Richard Burbage had Shakespeare and others as his partners, and it was in one or the other of these houses that he gained his greatest triumphs, taking the leading part in almost every new play. He was specially famous for his impersonation of Richard III. and other Shakespearian characters, and it was in tragedy that he especially excelled.
Every playwright of his day endeavoured to secure his services. He died on the 13th of March 1619. Richard Burbage was a painter as well as an actor. The Felton portrait of Shakespeare is attributed to him, and there is a portrait of a woman, undoubtedly by him, preserved at Dulwich College.