The title of the Master of the Revels was first given to Sir Edmund Tilney in 1579. Each year the Master had to select the best plays for court performance before the ruling monarch and the accompanying courtiers and aristocrats (this meant playing before Elizabeth I, and later, James I and then Charles I). The chosen players had to go to the Revels office to give readings in front of the Master who would decide on the suitability of the various theatrical works.

Thus, many playwrights, including Shakespeare, would have brought their play scripts to be inspected by the Master of the Revels for their suitability to be performed to the court or indeed publicly, and the Master would remove any passages he considered blasphemous, treasonable or seditious (i.e. criticising God, Sovereign, or the State). The various Masters usually read the plays in manuscript, and, if the play met with approval, the text would be signed off on the last page along with accompanying words of authorisation. Two such manuscripts survive, the most famous being a play entitled Sir Thomas More which was censored by Tilney and is thought to include scenes written in the hand of Shakespeare.

Actors continued to rehearse plays that were to be performed at court for Tilney, who held this office until 1610 when he died, his large mansion being at the eastern end of what is now Aylesbury Street. The adjacent Priory buildings were used for making and storing costumes, stage sets and equipment for such performances.

The Revels office was then relocated for a time next to the new Whitefriars theatre, and when the role passed to George Buck in 1611, it moved to Peter’s Hill on the south side of St Paul's and near to the College of Arms, where in 1622 Sir Henry Herbert bought the office of Revels Master, holding it until the outbreak of civil war in 1642. Under Herbert the Revels office moved to for the last time in 1630 to Cheapside, near St Mary-le-Bow Church where it remained until 1642 and the outbreak of civil war. With no theatrical industry left to regulate, and with the court officially absent from Whitehall and London, the Revels office then ceased to exist during the 1640s and 1650s.