The Red Lion Theatre
The Red Lion was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Mile End (part of the modern Borough of Tower Hamlets), just outside the City of London. Built in 1567, by John Brayne, formerly a grocer, this theatre was a short lived attempt to provide a purpose built playhouse for the many Tudor touring theatrical companies.
The Red Lion had been a farm, but a single gallery multi-sided theatre, with a fixed stage 40 feet by 30 feet, standing 5 feet above the audience, was built in the garden of the farmhouse. The stage was equipped with trapdoors, and an attached turret, or fly tower - for aerial stunts and to advertise its presence. The construction cost £20, and while it appears to have been a commercial success, the Red Lion offered little that the prior tradition of playing in inns had not offered, and it was too far from its audiences to be attractive (at the time, the area was open farmland) for visiting in the winter. There is little documentary evidence that it survived beyond the summer season of 1567.
Little is known of the Red Lion, principally, from a lawsuit between Brayne and Edward Stowers, a blacksmith of Averstone, Essex (the modern Alphamstone). Brayne was married to Stowers sister Margaret. The suit concerned six acres of land straddling the Essex-Suffolk border, and alleged that Brayne raised a mortgage on the land, by trickery, in order to build the Red Lion.
The venture was soon replaced by a more successful collaboration between Brayne and another brother-in-law, the actor-manager James Burbage at Shoreditch, known as The Theatre. The Red Lion was a receiving house for touring companies, whereas The Theatre accepted long term engagements, essentially in repertory, with companies being based there. The former was a continuation of the tradition of touring groups, performing at inns and grand houses, the later a radically new form of theatrical engagement.
The Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Shoreditch (part of the modern Borough of Hackney), just outside the City of London. Built by actor-manager James Burbage, near the family home in Holywell Street, The Theatre is considered the first theatre built in London for the sole purpose of theatrical productions. The Theatre's history includes a number of important acting troupes including the Lord Chamberlain's Men which employed Shakespeare as actor and playwright. After a dispute with the landlord, the theatre was dismantled and the timbers used in the construction of the Globe Theatre on Bankside.
The Theatre was constructed in 1576 by James Burbage in partnership with his brother-in-law John Brayne on property that had originally been the grounds of the dissolved priory of Halliwell (or Holywell). The location of The Theatre was in Shoreditch, beyond the northern boundary of the City of London and thus outside the jurisdiction of civil authorities who were often opposed to the theatre. This area in the "suburbs of sin" was notorious for licentious behaviour, brothels and gaming houses, and a year later another theatre called The Curtain was built nearby, making the area London's first theatrical and entertainment district.
"This wooden O"
The design of The Theatre was possibly adapted from the inn-yards that had served as playing spaces for actors and/or bear baiting pits. The building was a polygonal wooden building with three galleries that surrounded an open yard. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the chorus' speech describes the theatre as, "This wooden O." From one side of the polygon extended a thrust stage. The Theatre is said to have cost £700 to construct, a considerable sum for the age.
The open yard in front of the stage was cobbled and provided standing room for those paying a penny. For another penny, the audience were allowed into the galleries where they either stood or, for a third penny, could procure a stool. One of the galleries, though sources do not state which, was divided into small compartments that could be used by the wealthy and aristocrats.
The Theatre opened in the autumn of 1576, possibly as a venue for Leicester's Men, the acting company of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester of which James Burbage was a member. In the 1580s the Admiral's Men, of which James Burbage's son, Richard was a member, took up residence. After a disagreement between the company and young Burbage broke out, most of the company left for the Rose Theatre which was under the management of Philip Henslowe.
In 1594, Richard Burbage became the leading actor of the Lord Chamberlain's Men which performed here until 1597. Poet, playwright and actor William Shakespeare was also in the employ of the Company here and some of his his early plays, possibly including an early version of Hamlet (the so-called Ur-Hamlet) were premiered here.
Foundation of the Globe
Towards the end of 1596, problems arose with the property's landlord, one Giles Allen. In consequence, in 1597, the Lord Chamberlain's Men were forced to stop playing at the Theatre and moved to the nearby Curtain. The lease, which had been granted to Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage upon the death of their father, expired the following year. The sight of the deserted Theatre prompted these lines from a minor satirist of the day:
But see yonder,
One like the unfrequented Theatre
Walks in dark silence and vast solitude.
This state of affairs forced the Burbage brothers to take drastic action to save their investment. In defiance of the landlord and with the help of their friend and financial backer William Smith, chief carpenter Peter Street and ten or twelve workman, they dismantled the theatre on the night of the 28th December 1598 and moved the structure piecemeal across the Thames. The pieces of The Theatre were then used in the construction of the Globe Theatre.
No remains of The Theatre survive. Its former site is marked by a plaque at 88-86 Curtain Road, Shoreditch.
The Red Lion
John Brayne, originally a grocer and one of the partners in The Theatre, had built an earlier playhouse in Mile End, called the Red Lion, in 1567. It appears to have been a success, but scant information about it survives.
The Red Lion was a receiving house for touring companies, whereas The Theatre accepted long term engagements, essentially in repertory. The former was considered a continuation of the tradition of playing at inns, the later a radically new form of theatrical engagement.
There is no evidence that the Red Lion continued beyond the summer of 1567, although the law suit, from which we know much of the little we know of it, dragged on until 1578.
The Swan Theatre
The Swan was a theatre in Southwark, London, England, built between 1594 and 1596, during the first half of William Shakespeare's career. It was the fourth in the series of large public playhouses of London, after James Burbage's The Theatre (1576) and Curtain (1577), and Philip Henslowe's Rose (1587-8).
The Swan was located on the west end of the Bankside district of Southwark, across the River Thames from the City of London. It was at the northeast corner of the Paris Garden estate that Francis Langley had purchased in May 1589, east of the manor house, and 150 yards south of the Paris Garden stairs at the river's edge. Langley had the theatre built almost certainy in 1595-6. When it was new, the Swan was the most visually impressive of the existing London theatres. Johannes De Witt, a Dutchman who visited London around 1596, left a description of the Swan in his Observationes Londiniensis. Translated from the Latin, his description identifies the Swan as the "finest and biggest of the London theatres," with a capacity for 3000 spectators. It was built of flint concrete, and its wooden supporting columns were so cleverly painted that "they would deceive the most acute observer into thinking that they were marble," giving the Swan a "Roman" appearance. (De Witt also drew a sketch of the theatre. The original is lost, but a copy by Arendt van Buchell survives, and is the only sketch of an Elizabethan playhouse known to exist. If the Lord Chamberlain's Men acted at the Swan in the summer of 1596—which is possible, though far from certain—they would be the actors shown in the Swan sketch.) When Henslowe built the new Hope Theatre in 1613, he had his carpenter copy the Swan, rather than his own original theatre the Rose, which must have appeared dated and out of style in comparison.
In 1597 the Swan housed the acting company Pembroke's Men, who staged the infamous play The Isle of Dogs, by Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson, the content of which gave offense for unknown reasons. Jonson was imprisoned, along with Gabriel Spenser (an actor) in the play, and others. Langley, already in trouble with the Privy Council over matters unrelated to theater, may have exacerbated his danger by allowing his company to stage the play after a royal order that all playing stop and all theaters be demolished. This order may have been directed at Langley alone; the other companies, the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the Admiral's Men, had been authorized to return to the stage by October.
Because both court and city were interested in limiting the number of acting troupes in London, and because there was, consequently, a glut of large open-roof venues in the city, the Swan was only intermittently home to drama. Along with The Isle of Dogs, the most famous play to premiere there was Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, performed by the newly-merged Lady Elizabeth's Men and Children of the Queen's Revels (the troupe that had been associated with the Blackfriars Theatre before 1608) in 1613. The theater offered other popular entertainments, such as swashbuckling competitions and bear-baiting, and by 1632 it had been pulled down.
The Rose Theatre
The Rose was an Elizabethan theatre. It was the fourth of the public theatres to be built, after The Theatre (1576), the Curtain (1577), and the theatre at Newington Butts (c. 1580?) — and the first of several playhouses to be situated in Bankside, Southwark, in a liberty outside the jurisdiction of the City of London's civic authorities.
The Rose was built in 1587 by Philip Henslowe and by a grocer named John Cholmley. The theatre was built on a messuage called the "Little Rose," which Henslowe had leased from the parish of St. Mildred in 1585. It contained substantial rose gardens and two buildings; Cholmley used one as a storehouse, while Henslowe appears to have leased the other as a brothel. The building was of timber, with a lath and plaster exterior and thatch roof. It was polygonal in shape, about 21 meters in diameter. City records indicate that it was in use by late 1587; however, it is not mentioned in Henslowe's accounts between its construction and 1592, and it is possible that he leased it to an acting company with which he was not otherwise concerned.
In 1592 Edward Alleyn was acting with a combination of personnel from Lord Strange's Men and the Admiral's Men; this group moved into the Rose in February of 1592. Henslowe enlarged the theatre for the new troupe, moving the stage further back (six feet six inches, or two meters) to make room for perhaps 500 extra spectators. The original Rose was smaller than other theatres, only about two-thirds the size of the original Theatre built eleven years earlier, and its stage was also unusually small; the enlargement addressed both matters. Henslowe paid all the costs himself, indicating that Cholmley was no longer involved — either deceased or bought out. The work was done by the builder John Grigg. The renovation gave the theatre, formerly a regular polygon (with perhaps 14 sides), a distorted egg shape, a "bulging tulip" or "distorted ovoid" floor plan.
The 1592–4 period was difficult for the acting companies of London; a severe outbreak of bubonic plague meant that the London theatres were closed almost continuously from June 1592 to May 1594. The companies were forced to tour to survive, and some, like Pembroke's Men, fell on hard times. By the summer of 1594 the plague had abated, and the companies re-organized themselves, principally into the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the Admiral's Men. The latter troupe, still led by Alleyn, resumed residence at the Rose.
The Rose appears to have differed from other theatres of the era in its ability to stage large scenes on two levels. It is thought that all Elizabethan theatres had a limited capability to stage scenes "aloft," on an upper level at the back of the stage — as with Juliet on her balcony in Romeo and Juliet, II.ii. A minority of Elizabethan plays, however, call for larger assemblies of actors on the higher second level — as with the Roman Senators looking down upon Titus in the opening scene of Titus Andronicus. An unusual concentration of plays with the latter sort of staging requirement can be associated with the Rose, indicating that the Rose had an enhanced capacity for this particularity of stagecraft.
The Rose was home to the Admiral's Men for several years. When the Lord Chamberlain's Men built the Globe Theatre on the Bankside in 1599, however, the Rose was put into a difficult position. Prompted by complaints from city officials, the Privy Council decreed in June 1600 that only two theatres would be allowed for stage plays: the Globe in Bankside, and the Fortune Theatre in Middlesex — specifically, Shoreditch. Henslowe and Alleyn had already built the Fortune, apparently to fill the vacuum created when the Chamberlain's Men left Shoreditch. The Rose was used briefly by Worcester's Men in 1602 and 1603; when the lease ran out on The Rose in 1605 it was abandoned. The playhouse may have been pulled down as early as 1606.
In 1989, the remains of the Rose were threatened with destruction by building development. A campaign to save the site was launched by several well-known theatrical figures, including Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier. It was eventually decided to build over the top of the theatre's remains, leaving them conserved beneath.
The handling of the Rose Theatre by government, archaeologists and the developer provided impetus for the legitimisation of archaeology in the development process and led the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher to introduce PPG 16 in an attempt to manage archaeology in the face of development threat.
The foundations of the Rose are covered in a few inches of water to keep the ground from developing major cracks, but it is used for performances with actors performing around the perimeter of the site. When the Museum of London carried out the excavation work, the staff found many objects which are now stored in the museum itself. (Portions of the theatre's foundations were deeply littered with hazelnut shells — apparently, hazel nuts were the popcorn of English Renaissance drama.)
In 1999, the site was re-opened to the public, underneath the controversial new development. Work continues to excavate this historic site further and to secure its future.
The Globe Theatre
The original Globe was an Elizabethan theatre which opened in Autumn 1599 in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, in an area now known as Bankside. It was one of several major theatres that were located in the area, the others being the Swan, the Rose and The Hope. The Globe was the principal playhouse of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (who would become the King's Men in 1603). Most of Shakespeare's post-1599 plays were staged at the Globe, including Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and Hamlet.
The Globe was owned by many actors, who (except for one) were also shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage, owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Thomas Pope, owned a single share, or 12.5%. (Originally William Kempe was intended to be the seventh partner, but he sold out his share to the four minority sharers, leaving them with more than the originally planned 10%). These initial proportions changed over time, as new sharers were added. Shakespeare's share diminished from 1/8 to 1/14, or roughly 7%, over the course of his career.
The Globe was built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, The Theatre, that had been built by Richard Burbage's father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 20-year lease of the site on which the Theatre was built. When the lease ran out, they dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe.
On June 29, 1613, the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry the Eighth. A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching. According to one of the few surviving documents of the event, no one was hurt except a man who put out his burning breeches with a bottle of ale.
Like all the other theatres in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was destroyed in 1644 to make room for tenements. Its exact location remained unknown until remnants of its foundations were discovered in 1989 beneath the car park of Anchor Terrace on Park Street (the shape of the foundations are replicated in the surface of the car park). There may be further remains beneath Anchor Terrace, but the 18th century terrace is listed and therefore cannot be disturbed by archaeologists.
Layout of the Globe
The Globe's actual dimensions are unknown, but its shape and size can be approximated from scholarly inquiry over the last two centuries. The evidence suggests that it was a three-story, open-air amphitheatre between 97 and 102 feet (29.6 - 31.1M) in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators. The Globe is shown as round on Wenceslas Hollar's sketch of the building, later incorporated into his engraved "Long View" of London in 1647. However, in 1997-98, the uncovering of a small part of the Globe's foundation suggested that it was a polygon of 20 (or possibly 18) sides.
At the base of the stage, there was an area called the pit, (or, harking back to the old inn-yards, yard) where, for a penny, people (the "groundlings") would stand to watch the performance. Groundlings would eat hazelnuts during performances — during the excavation of the Globe nutshells were found preserved in the dirt — or oranges. Around the yard were three levels of stadium-style seats, which were more expensive than standing room.
A rectangular stage platform, also known as an 'apron stage', thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. The stage measured approximately 43 feet (13.1m) in width, 27 feet (8.2m) in depth and was raised about 5 feet (1.52m) off the ground. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from the "cellarage" area beneath the stage. There may have been other trap doors around the stage. Large columns on either side of the stage supported a roof over the rear portion of the stage.
The ceiling under this roof was called the "heavens," and may have been painted with clouds and the sky. A trap door in the heavens enabled performers to descend using some form of rope and harness.
The back wall of the stage had two or three doors on the main level, with a curtained inner stage in the center and a balcony above it. The doors entered into the "tiring house" (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The balcony housed the musicians and could also be used for scenes requiring an upper space, such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet.
The modern Globe
At the instigation of American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, a new Globe theatre was built according to an Elizabethan plan. The design team comprised Theo Crosby of Pentagram as the architect, Buro Happold as structural and services engineers and Boyden & Co as quantity surveyors. It opened in 1997 under the name "Shakespeare's Globe Theatre" and now stages plays every summer (May to October). Mark Rylance was appointed as the first artistic director of the modern Globe in 1995. In 2006, Dominic Dromgoole took over.
The new theatre on Bankside is approximately 225 yards (205m) from the original site, centre to centre, and was the first thatched roof building permitted in London since the Great Fire of London in 1666.
As in the original Globe, the theatre is open to the sky and has a thrust stage that projects into a large circular yard surrounded by three tiers of steeply raked seating. 700 tickets to stand (and you must stand, no sitting allowed) in the yard are available for every performance at 5 pounds each. The only covered parts of the amphitheatre are the stage and the (more expensive) seated areas. Plays are put on during the summer, usually between May and the first week of October. In the winter the theatre is used for educational purposes. Tours are available all year round.
The reconstruction was carefully researched so that the new building would be as faithful a replica as possible. This was aided by the discovery as final plans were being made of the site of the original Globe itself. Modernisations include the addition of sprinklers on the roof to protect against fire, and the fact that the theatre is partly joined onto a modern lobby, visitors centre and additional backstage support areas. Due to modern Health and Safety regulations 1,300 people can be housed during a show, under half the estimated 3,000 of Shakespeare's time.
The Fortune Playhouse
The Fortune Playhouse is the name of an historic theatre in London. It was located between Whitecross Street and the modern Golden Lane, just outside the City of London. It was founded about 1600, and suppressed by the Puritan Parliament in 1642.
The Fortune Theatre was contemporary with Shakespeare's Globe, the Swan theatre and others; it stood in the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate, to the west of the Shoreditch locations of The Theatre and the Curtain Theatre, between Whitecross Street and Golding Lane just outside the City of London. Between 1600 and 1642, it was among the chief venues for drama in London.
The Fortune was erected as the second half of a substantial realignment of London's chief acting companies. In 1597, the Lord Chamberlain's Men had left, or rather been ejected, from The Theatre; they abandoned Shoreditch and in 1599 constructed a new theatre, the Globe, in Southwark. The Admiral's Men, then playing in the nearby and aging Rose Theatre, suddenly faced stiff competition for Bankside audiences.
At this point, the Admiral's manager Philip Henslowe and his stepson-in-law, the leading actor Edward Alleyn, made plans to move to Shoreditch; Alleyn appears to have funded the new theatre, later selling half-interest to his father-in-law. They paid £240 for a thirty-year lease on a plot of land between tenements on Golding and Whitecross Lane. They hired Peter Street, who had just finished building the Globe, to make them a playhouse. Street was paid £440 for the construction job; with another £80 spent for painting and incidental expenses, the cost of the physical building was £520. The total expenses for the project, including the securing of property rights and clearances of previous leases, came to £1,320. Maintaining the theatre cost about £120 per year in the first decade of its existence.
Because the contract for the construction was preserved among Alleyn's papers, a good deal more is known about the Fortune than about the other outdoor theatres. The document also casts some light on the features of the Globe, since Henslowe and Alleyn planned their theatre with an eye on their rival's venue; many of the details in the contract are for sizes equal to or bigger than the Globe's equivalent.
The plot of land on which the theatre sat was approximately square, 127 feet across and 129 feet deep. The theatre was built on a foundation of lime and brick; square-shaped (uniquely among the period's amphitheatres), each wall measured eighty feet outside and fifty-five within. The building was three stories tall; the first-floor galleries were twelve feet high, those on the second floor eleven; those on the third, nine. Each row of galleries was twelve feet deep. Henslowe and Alleyn specified that the Fortune outdo the Globe "in every point for scantlings"; they also provided, in accordance with common practice, for two-penny rooms and gentlemen's rooms. The building was constructed of lath and plaster, with wood floors in the galleries.
The stage, and tiring-house, were thrust forward into the middle of the square. The tiring-house had glazed windows; the manner of its attachment to the stage is unknown but presumably similar to that of the Swan. The stage was forty-three feet across; it was covered with tile.
Henslowe and Alleyn's plans met with considerable opposition from the neighbourhood and city officials. With the aid of their patron, Charles Howard, the Lord Admiral, they secured permission from the Privy Council for the venture. Henslowe seems also to have soothed his neighbors' worries by pledging substantial amounts to charity in the parish.
The theatre housed the Admiral's Men by late 1600, as revealed by correspondence of the Venetian ambassador in London. This troupe remained as tenants for more than two decades, surviving the deaths of both Henslowe and Alleyn, and remaining fairly stable under the successive patronage of Prince Henry and Lord Palsgrave. Upon Henslowe's death, Alleyn assumed full control of the property.
Originally described as the "fairest play-house in the town," the Fortune suffered a slow decline in reputation over the decades. In 1605, notorious roisterer Mary Frith may have appeared on the boards, singing and playing a lute; it is not clear from the consistory court records in which this event is described if the players were a party to her antics. In 1612, the theatre was mentioned by name in a city order suppressing the post-performance jigs, which authorities believed led to fist-fights and thefts. That this belief had some merit is suggested by a case the next year, in which a country farmer stabbed a city gentleman. In 1614, Thomas Tomkiss's academic play Albumazar linked the Fortune and the Red Bull Theatre as raucous places to see old-fashioned fare such as The Spanish Tragedy. The aspersion stuck, as did the conjunction of north-side theatres.
Yet the conventional view should not be exaggerated; on one and perhaps two occasions, ambassadors visited the theatre. On the first and less certain occasion, a member of the Venetian delegation, Orazio Busino, describes a visit in December 1617 to a theatre that may have been the Fortune. On the second, the notorious Gondomar certainly visited Alleyn and the others there in 1621; after the performance the players held a banquet in his honour.
On 9 December 1621, the Fortune burned to the ground, taking with it the company's stock of plays and properties. To meet the £1000 cost of rebuilding, Alleyn formed a partnership of twelve sharers, each paying an initial amount of £83 6s. 8d. By then aged and busy with Dulwich College, he took only one share for himself, and leased the property to the company's sharers for £128 per year. (The shareholders paid Alleyn £10 13s. 10d. each annually, and in return split the profits of the theatre, and the expenses of running it, twelve ways.) The theatre re-opened in March 1623. When Alleyn died in 1626, the College assumed control of the lease; the actor Richard Gunnell became its manager. Yet this change does not appear to have changed operations at the theatre. The new theatre appears to have been made of brick, with a lead and tile roof as fire-proofing measure. It also seems to have been round, abandoning its unconventional square shape.
The reputation of the theatre did not improve after its reconstruction. In 1626, it was the scene of a riot involving sailors, in the course of which a constable was assaulted. In 1628, a protege of Buckingham was assaulted by a mob after leaving a performance there.
In 1631, Palsgrave's Men moved to the playhouse at Salisbury Court; they were replaced at the Fortune by the actors of the King's Revels. The only play definitely associated with this period is a comedy, now lost, by William Heminges, son of John Heminges. In 1635, a company that had been at the Red Bull Theatre occupied the theatre, only to meet a notable run of bad fortune: plague closed the theatres for more than a year, from May 1636 to October 1637. Since they had no income from the theatre, the twelve shareholders in the theatre fell seriously arrears in their payments to Dulwich College, by more than £165.
In 1639, the actors were fined £1000 for depicting a religious ceremony on stage—this depiction was taken as anti-Catholic, but in the late 1630s, almost any reference to religion was risky. This group returned to the Red Bull at Easter 1640, and the remnants of Palsgrave's company, now under the patronage of the young Prince Charles and therefore called Prince Charles's Men, returned to the Fortune.
When Parliament ordered all theatres closed in 1642, the Fortune entered a slow but irreversible decline. The actors at least occasionally violated the order, for they were raided and their property seized during a performance almost a year after the closure; between the expiration of the original order and the enactment of new, more stringent orders in 1649, the players returned to the theatre. In 1649, soldiers pulled down the stage and the gallery seats. By the the Restoration, it had partially collapsed, and the masters of Dulwich sold what remained as scrap.
The Curtain Theatre
The Curtain Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Curtain Close, Shoreditch (part of the modern Borough of Hackney), just outside the City of London. It opened in 1577, and continued staging plays until 1622.
The Curtain was built some 200 yards south of London's first playhouse, The Theatre, which had opened a year before, in 1576. (It was called the "Curtain" because it was located near a plot of land called Curtain Close, not because it had the sort of front curtain associated with modern theatres. Elizabethan theatres had small curtained enclosures at the back of their stages; but the large front-curtained Proscenium stage did not appear in England till after the Restoration.)
Little is known of the plays performed at the Curtain or of the playing companies that performed there. Its proprietor seems to have been one Henry Lanman, who is described as a "gentleman." In 1585 Lanman made an agreement with the proprietor of the Theatre, James Burbage, to use the Curtain as a supplementary house, or "easer," to the more prestigious older playhouse.
From 1597 to 1599 it became the premiere venue of Shakespeare's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, who had been forced to leave their former playing space at The Theatre after the latter closed in 1596. It was the venue of several of Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet (which gained "Curtain plaudits") and Henry V. In this latter play the somewhat undistinguished Curtain gains immortal fame by being described by Shakespeare as "this wooden O." The Lord Chamberlain's Men also performed Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour here in 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast. Later that same year Jonson gained a certain notoriety by killing actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel in nearby Hoxton Fields. The Lord Chamberlain's Men departed the Curtain when the Globe, which they built to replace the Theatre, was ready for use (1599).
As far as is known, Lanman ran the Curtain as a private concern for the first phase of its existence; yet at some point the theatre was re-organized into a shareholders' enterprise. Thomas Pope, one of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, owned a share in the Curtain and left it to his heirs in his last will and testament in 1603. King's Men member John Underwood did the same in 1624. The fact that both of these shareholders belonged to Shakespeare's company may indicate that the re-organization of the Curtain occurred when the Lord Chamberlain's Men were acting there.
In 1603 the Curtain became the playhouse of Queen Anne's Men (formerly known as Worcester's Men, and formerly at the Rose Theatre, where they'd played Heywood's A Woman Kill'd With Kindness in February of that year). In 1607 The Travels of the Three English Brothers, by Rowley, Day, and Wilkins, was performed at the Curtain.
The ultimate fate of the Curtain is obscure. There is no record of it after 1627.
A modern plaque marks its site today, in Hewett Street off Curtain Road.
The Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre was the name of two separate theatres in the Blackfriars district of the City of London during the Renaissance. Both theatres began as venues for child actors associated with the Queen's chapel choirs; in this function, the theatres hosted some of the most innovative drama of Elizabeth and James's reigns, from the euphuism of John Lyly to the stinging satire of Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston. The second theatre eventually passed into the control of the King's Men, who used it as their winter playhouse until the theatres were closed in 1642.
The Blackfriars Theatres were built on the grounds of the former Dominican monastery; the black robes worn by members of this order lent the neighbourhood, and theatres, their name. In the pre-Reformation Tudor years, the site was used not only for religious but also for political functions--perhaps most notably, the divorce trial of Catherine and Henry VIII which would, more than a century later, be reenacted in the same room by Shakespeare's company. After Henry's expropriation of monastic property, the monastery became the property of the crown; control of the property was granted to Thomas Cawarden, Master of the Revels. Cawarden used part of the monastery as Revels offices; other parts he sold or leased to the neighbourhood's wealthy residents, including Lord Cobham and John Cheke. After Cawarden's death, the property passed to Sir William More. In 1576, Richard Farrant, then Master of Windsor Chapel leased part of the former buttery from More in order to stage plays. As often in the theatrical practice of the time, this commercial enterprise was justified by the convenient fiction of royal necessity; Farrant claimed to need the space for his child choristers to practice plays for the Queen, but he also staged plays for paying audiences. The theatre was small, perhaps 46 feet long and 25 feet wide (14 by 8 metres), and admission, compared to public theatres, expensive (apparently fourpence); both these factors limited attendance at the theatre to a fairly select group of well-to-do gentry and nobles.
For his playing company, Farrant combined his Windsor children with the Children of the Chapel Royal, then directed by William Hunnis. Relatively little is known of their repertoire, except that it presumably included works by Farrant and perhaps Hunnis. The landlord More appears to have remained patient with this use of his property until shortly before Farrant's death in 1580, when More attempted to prove that his tenant had broken the lease. This attempt came to nothing; supported by a letter from Robert Dudley, the widow Ann Farrant was allowed to lease the theater to Hunnis. Hunnis continued to produce plays at the site until 1583, when he sold his lease to Henry Evans. There followed a confused period of legal actions involving Hunnis, Ann Farrant, Evans, and More. The result, apparently orchestrated by Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, placed the theater under the control of Hunnis and de Vere's secretary, playwright John Lyly. Lyly's plays and others were, for a year or two, performed at the theatre before production at court. In 1585, however, More obtained a legal judgement voiding the original lease. The theatre was shut down after this judgement for more than a decade.
The second Blackfriars was an indoor theatre built elsewhere on the property at the instigation of James Burbage, father of Richard Burbage, and impresario of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. In 1596, Burbage purchased, for £600, the frater of the former priory and rooms below. This large space, perhaps 100 feet long and 50 wide (30 by 15 metres), with high ceilings allowed Burbage to construct two galleries, substantially increasing potential attendance. As Burbage built, however, a petition from the residents of the wealthy neighbourhood persuaded the Privy Council to forbid playing there; the letter was signed even by Lord Hunsdon, patron of Burbage's company. The company was absolutely forbidden to perform there.
Three years later, Richard Burbage was able to lease the property to Henry Evans, the lawyer who had been among those ejected more fifteen years earlier. Evans entered a partnership with Nathaniel Giles, Hunnis's successor at the Chapel Royal. They used the theatre for a commercial enterprise with a group called the Children of the Chapel, which combined the choristers of the chapel with other boys, many taken up from local grammar schools under colour of Giles's warrant to provide entertainment for the Queen. The dubious legality of these dramatic impressments led to a challenge from a father in 1600; however, this method brought the company some of its most famous actors, including Nathaniel Field and Salmon Pavy. The residents did not protest this use, probably because of perceived social differences between the adult and child companies.
While it housed this company, Blackfriars was the site of an explosion of innovative drama and staging. Together with its competitor, Paul's Children, the Blackfriars company produced plays by a number of the most talented young dramatists of Jacobean literature, among them Thomas Middleton, Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston. Chapman and Jonson wrote almost exclusively for Blackfriars in this period, while Marston began with Paul's but switched to Blackfriars, in which he appears to have been a sharer, by around 1605. In the latter half of the decade, the company at Blackfriars premiered plays by Francis Beaumont (The Knight of the Burning Pestle) and John Fletcher (The Faithful Shepherdess) that, although failures in their first production, marked the first significant appearance of these two dramatists, whose work would profoundly affect early Stuart drama. The new plays of all these playwrights deliberately pushed the accepted boundaries of personal and social satire, of violence on stage, and of sexual frankness. These plays appear to have attracted members of a higher social class than was the norm at the Bankside and Shoreditch theatres, and the admission price (sixpence for a cheap seat) probably excluded the poorer patrons of the amphitheatres. Prefaces and internal references speak of gallants and Inns of Court men, who came not only to see a play but also, of course, to be seen; the private theatres sold seats on the stage itself.
The Blackfriars playhouse was also the source of other innovations which would profoundly change the nature of English commercial staging: it was among the first commercial theatrical enterprises to rely on artificial lighting, and it featured music between acts, a practice which the induction to Marston's The Malcontent (1604) indicates was not common in the public theatres at that time.
In the years around the turn of the century, the children's companies were something of a phenomenon; a reference in Hamlet to "little eyasses" suggests that even the adult companies felt threatened by them. By the later half of that decade, the fashion had changed somewhat. In 1608, Burbage's company (by this time, the King's Men) took possession of the theatre, which they still owned, this time without objections from the neighbourhood. There were originally seven sharers in the reorganised theatre: Richard Burbage, William Shakespeare, Henry Condell, John Heminges, and William Sly, all members of the King's Men, plus Cuthbert Burbage and Thomas Evans, agent for the theatre manager Henry Evans. Sly, however, died soon after the arrangement was made, and his share was divided among the other six.
After renovations, the King's Men began using the theatre for performances in 1609. Thereafter the King's Men played in Blackfriars for the seven months in winter, and at the Globe during the summer. Blackfriars appears to have brought in a little over twice the revenue of the Globe; the shareholders could earn as much as £13 from a single performance, apart from what went to the actors.
In the reign of Charles I, even Queen Henrietta Maria was in the Blackfriars audience. On May 13, 1634 she and her attendants saw a play by Philip Massinger; in late 1635 or early 1636 they saw Lodowick Carlell's Arviragus and Philicia, part 2; and they attended a third performance in May of 1636.
The theatre closed at the onset of the English Civil War, and was demolished on August 6, 1655.
Structure of the second theatre
The nature of Burbage's modifications to his purchase is not clear, and the many contemporary references to the theatre do not offer a precise picture of its design. Once fitted for playing, the space may have been about 66 feet long and 46 feet wide (20 by 14 metres), including tiring areas. There were at least two and possibly three galleries, and perhaps a number of stage boxes adjacent to the stage. Estimates of its capacity have varied from below 600 to almost 1000, depending on the number of galleries and boxes. Perhaps as many as ten spectators would have encumbered the stage.