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The Theatre

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The Theatre

Name and Significance

As Elizabethan England’s first purpose-built playhouse, the Theatre could take that name without fear of confusion with other London playhouses. To Elizabethans, the word theatre had a wider and richer connotation than has come down to us today. The owner and builder of the Theatre, James Burbage, must have been aware of this. The decision to name his building the Theatre was bold, perhaps even provocative.

Origin and Etymology

The word theatre comes into English from the Latin theātrum. The Latin word comes in turn from the Greek θέᾱτρον, meaning a place for viewing (OED theatre, n.1). The Greek noun is related to the verb θεᾶσθαι, to behold, and also to θέα sight, view and θεατής spectator (OED theatre, n.1). The English word theatre has been in the lexicon since the Middle Age (first recorded use c. 1374 in Chaucer’s translation of De Consolatione Philosophiae) (OED theatre, n.1). It retains the sense of looking, viewing, and spectatorship, although in current usage its meaning is restricted to the performing arts and the physical buildings in which they are performed. At the time the Theatre was constructed, the Latin theātrum was used to mean not only a physical space and the action performed in that space, but also much more generally, indicating something worthy of display and to be looked at.

Roman Theatres

Though it was the first permanent Elizabethan theatre, the Theatre was not the first theatre to be built in England. The ruins of twenty Roman amphitheatres have been found scattered throughout Britain by modern archeologists, including one at London. The amphitheatres were used to stage spectacle (Wilmot): gladiator fights, beast fights, and criminal executions. Of particular interest is the Roman theatre at Verulamium. It is the only known example of a Roman theatre in Britain with a thrust stage rather than an arena. This which indicates that theatrical performances were staged there, although the building could still have been used for fights (both animal and gladiatorial) as well (Roman Theatre of Verulamium).
An artist’s impression of the Verulamium theatre, based on the excavated groundplan, is strikingly similar to conjectural reconstructions of Elizabethan playhouses.1 Similarly, we know that several London playhouses also served two functions, being used both for theatrical performances and for bear-bating. There is no evidence, however, that the Theatre had such a dual purpose.
By the end of the fourth century AD the Verulamium theatre was no longer in use as a venue for the performing arts (it actually became the town’s rubbish site) (Kenyon). The amphitheatres also fell into ruin after the Roman withdrawal from Britain. There is no evidence, or records of any kind, for any amphitheatres surviving to the Elizabethan period. We thus have no way of knowing whether Burbage and his contemporaries would have been aware of their former existence. However, the Elizabethans were devoted to the Greek and Roman classics. Even if they were not aware that Britain had had its own amphitheatres, knowledge of the Roman theatres, their appearance and function probably survived.

Classical Tradition

Burbage may have wished to evoke the classical Roman tradition of theatre, both in the Theatre’s almost circular shape (clearly comparable to the Roman amphitheatres) and in its name. As Andrew Gurr has put it: His choice of a Roman name and the circular design suggests that he may have had grandiose ambitions to provide London with a copy of one of Rome’s great inventions. Its name affirms that it was not just another converted innyard (Gurr). But if Burbage hoped that this would lend an aura of respectability to his theatre and the performance of plays in it, he was to be disappointed. The Puritans, following the wake of early church fathers such as Tertullian and Augustine, continued to condemn the practice of theatre going and performance as occasions of gambling, drunkenness, prostitution and general moral degradation.
The word theātrum is of course closely associated with the phrase theātrum mundi (theatre of the world), a concept which is especially associated with the Renaissance and the Baroque style. The concept is most familiar to us today as Shakespeare expresses it in As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts, Gap in transcription. Reason: (EB)[…]
(Shakespeare 1118-1121)
But the concept of theātrum mundi was by no means limited to the stage and a literal theatre. Several book roughly contemporary with the Theatre contain the word theātrum in their titles:
  • Theatrum Vitae Humanum, c. 1565 (early encyclopedia)
  • A Theatre for Worldlings, 1569 (religious treatise)
  • Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570 (considered to be the first modern atlas)
  • Gynaeceum, sive Theatrum mulierum, 1586 (encyclopedia of women’s national dress)
  • Theatrum de veneficis, 1586 (treatise on black magic)
  • Theatrum Mundi, et Temporis, 1588 (maps of star constellations)
  • Theatrum artis scribendi, 1594 (treatise on handwriting)
The frontispieces of these and other Elizabethan books are highly detailed and richly symbolic. Several include representations of the physical world, and many contain some reference to the theatre, including, famously, Ben Jonson’s 1616 folio frontispiece image.
Ben Jonson’s 1616 folio Works title page. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Ben Jonson’s 1616 folio Works title page. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Almost all incorporate a physical structure of some kind—usually a stone arch or monument. This last is important, because the purpose of frontispieces was not merely to provide decoration. Instead they were designed to epitomise the book and glorify its author and his work (Corbett and Lightbrown). Burbage may have intended the Theatre to be his monument, a physical testimony to his life and work, more impressive and imposing than a mere page in a book.
Throughout the sixteenth century the royal Habsburgs compiled miscellaneous objects of value or beauty—jewellry, artifacts, curiosities, relics, paintings, objects from the natural world, carvings and sculptures—and housed them in collections known as Kunstkammern. One of the most important of these collections was that of Ferdinand II of Tyrol (1529-1595), whose Kunst-und Wunderkammer (chamber of art and natural wonders) was a reflection of the cosmos and thus of contemporary knowledge about the world (Haag). Kunstkammern and similar collections were described by Samuel Quiccheberg in his 1565 Inscriptiones vel tituli theatri amplissimi2 as theātri mundi, theatre[s] conceived in the broadest possible terms, containing genuine materials and accurate reproductions of the whole universe (qtd. in Friehs).
Kunstkammern first appeared in England as cabinets of curiosities around the turn of the sixteenth century—slightly later than their European counterparts. The earliest significant English collection is the Tradescant collection, first referred to in 1634. By this time the collection was already encyclopaedic (The Tradescant Collection), so Tradescant must have been collecting for some time. Consequently, even though the first record of the collection comes considerably later than the construction of the Theatre, it seems not unreasonable to assume that the idea of Kunstkammern as theātri mundi filtered back to England much earlier.3 Burbage may well have had this in mind when naming the Theatre.

Show and Spectacle

In the Renaissance period, the idea of a theātrum, or theatre, extended far beyond a physical space. The underlying concept of a theātrum was to present and showcase the universe in manageable form for study and spectatorship. Whether in the pages of a book or in a Kunstkammern, the aim was to present in a small space Gap in transcription. Reason: (EB)[…] an all embracing image of the world (Haag). We still think of the theatre as doing this: for many, one of the purposes of the theatre is how life is reflected in art. For the Elizabethan playgoers, the image of heaven, earth and the cosmos was incorporated into the physical structure of the theatre building. We know that the underside of the tiring-house roof in several of the playhouses was painted to represent the heavens, including depictions of the sun, moon, stars and the signs of the zodiac. The stage represented earth and the hollow area beneath it hell. Thus the whole cosmos was represented in the physical structure of the stage (Stern). There is unfortunately no surviving evidence of how the Theatre’s stage looked, but also no reason to assume that it varied greatly from this basic model.4


Unfortunately very little is known about the building and the structure of the playhouses in early modern London and the story is no different for the Theatre, the first purpose-built playhouse. The limited information we have on the Theatre comes from two main sources: the lawsuits and the plays performed there (Egan). Even with these documents the accuracy of our knowledge of the Theatre’s structure and its features cannot be confirmed. It was first believed that an image of the Curtain, was in fact an image of the Theatre; this information was then later corrected.5 Most famously, the Theatre was torn down from its site in Shoreditch and taken to Bankside were it was erected as the Globe. This suggests two things about the Theatre: (1) the basic structure of the Globe was similar if not exactly the same to that of the Theatre, and (2) that the Theatre was designed to be easily dismantled. We also know from legal documentation that there is no mention of stonemasons at any time during its erection, maintenance or deconstruction and the records supply no mention of thatchers suggesting that the Theatre was essentially a wooden structure with brick foundations and a tiled roof (Mabillard).
It was first suggested that builders of the time followed a plan to build playhouses making them all the same, however in later years this has been corrected. Each structure was built with needs of the plays and the players in mind. According to Gurr, the first amphitheatres, built in 1567 and 1576, were simpler structures than the later amphitheatres in the shapes of both the stage and the auditorium. Each amphitheatre seems to have been quite distinct from the others (Gurr). The Theatre was described as a vast, polygonal, three story timber structure, open to sun and rain (Mabillard). We can make an educated guess at the Theatre being a very grandiose structure with reports it cost up to £700 and descriptions of it recalling it to be decadent and sumptuous (Egan).
Some specifics of the structure can be gathered legal documentation. These include the audience structure, the method of construction, the payment system and the surrounding buildings on the property. Details of new lease negotiations in 1590s between Giles Allen and Cuthbert Burbage seem to suggest the pair discussed turning the Theatre into tenement flats. This leads us to believe that while the seating in the galleries was raked, (we assume) they were added to a flat floor after construction rather than having been incorporated into the buildings structure. This would indicate that the builders adopted a floor-on-floor method in construction.6
In 1585, a new lease was unsuccessfully negotiated by Allen and Burbage. The surviving unsigned draft suggests that parts of, if not most of the gallery space was subdivided into rooms. The lease gave Allen and his wife and family the right to:
Enter or come into the premises & their in some one of the vpper romes to have such convenient place to sett or stande to se such playes as shalbe ther played freely wthout and thinge therefore payeinge soe that the sayde Gyles hys wife and familie doe come & take ther places before they shalbe taken vpp by any others. (qtd. in Egan)
Whilst we accept there was no standard method of construction for the playhouses we do know that the Swan, the Hope, and the Fortune had subdivided rooms because of their surviving construction contracts.
Much like other playhouses of the time it is suggested that the Theatre worked on a penny-by-penny system in which you pay a penny for every time you cross through a gate to a new viewing position, therefore making the best seats the most expensive. This was first described by William Lambarde: first pay one penny at the gate, another at the entry of the scaffold, and a third for a quiet standing (Lambarde). A small section of documentation remains saying how Allen, together with Margaret Brayne and her supporter Robert Miles, went to the Theatre vppon A played aye to stand at the do that goeth vppe to the gallaries of the said Theatre to take & receive for the vse of the said Margarett half the money that shuld be given to come vppe into the said gallaries at that do. Egan seems to suggest that there was only one set of stairs that took patrons to the galleries and that this conflicts with Lambarde’s suggestion that access was after you entered the yard and paid your first penny (Egan).
Records show that the building contained £40 of ironmongery. This has then started a scholarly debate as to how the building was actually held together since it was possible to dismantle it in just a few days over Christmas. Berry suggests that the timbers were held together by metalwork rather than with fitted joints, mortises, tenons and dowels as usual (Berry). Although, on the other hand, it was thought to be a marvellous feat of conventional carpentry, prefabricated off-site and delivered as a kit set of parts (Orrell).
An archaeological dig in 2010 by the Museum of London saw the discovery of black glazed red ware pottery in a form that is traditionally associated with brewing and beer drinking. The project managers suggest that the later Bankside theatres such as The Globe and The Rose were known to have dedicated tap houses for their catering needs and that it is not inconceivable that our brew house served as a pragmatic re-use of an existing build for the prototype tap house (Braybrooke)
It is not possible to confirm the accuracy of the drawings or renderings created to give an impression of the Theatre but one has been created as a result of collaboration between Cloak and Dagger Studios and the Museum of London (The Theatre, Shoreditch 1595). Archaeological investigations into what really stood there in 1577 continue to this day.

Political Control, Controversy, and Censorship

Politics of Playing

Playhouses were believed by some to encourage vice and sin, contributing to the corruption of youth and threatening public order.7 The ability of players to build and maintain playhouses was seen by one commentator as an euident token of a wicked time.8 Playing was often restricted during Lent9 (Chambers 273, 278), during any divine service (Chambers 268) and on Sundays.10 Playhouses were associated with riots, public disturbances, and dangerous accidents, including one (probably apocryphal) rumour of an accident involving a firearm (possibly at the Theatre) in 1587 that resulted in the death of a pregnant woman and child (Gurr 265). Other recorded incidents include a violent quarrel involving an apprentice (Chambers 297), a great disorder that required the presence of the under Sheriff of Middlesex,11 and an indictment of John Brayne and James Burbage for allowing the illicit assembly of people, great affrays, reviling, tumult and near insurrections, and divers other malefactions and enormities and causing subversion of good order and government, and also to the peril of the lives of divers good subjects of the said lady Queen.12 Not everyone seemed to think that playhouses were likely to cause disquiet in the streets of London, however; in the minutes of a meeting of the City Court of Aldermen, there is noted a petition to allow such playes, enterludes, commedies & tradgedies as maye tende to represse vyce & extoll vertwe, for the recreation of the people, & therby to drawe them from sundrye worser exercyses (Chambers 269).
Playhouses were also consistently viewed as a threat to public health, as large gatherings of people posed a plague risk (Chambers 276, 278, 281). Very soon after the Theatre was opened, the Privy Council ordered that playing be restricted until Michaelmas be past at the least in order to avoid the sickness likely to happen through the heat of the weather and assemblies of the people of London to plays.13 In 1584 a document outlining the rules for playing in London ordered the prohibition of playing when plague deaths exceeded 50 in a week.14

Master of the Revels: Censorship and Licencing

The lifetime appointment of the Master of the Revels was first created during Henry VIII’s reign to organise the various theatrical entertainments that took place at court (Dutton 32). The Master came under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain’s office and his authority eventually expanded to cover companies of boy actors and the rest of the country (Dutton 32, 33). It is believed that the office primarily existed to safeguard against threats to the authority of the royal court and to stifle criticisms levelled against it and other important institutions (Dutton 3).
The Master was eventually granted powers to review plays before performance (previously held by the Privy Council and the Bishop of London), overriding any civic authority, possibly to the consternation of the Lord Mayor of London (Dutton 19, 21, 32). Queen Elizabeth I issued a proclamation in 155915 which, though it made few practical changes to the licencing regime, suggested a desire for tighter royal control over the process (Dutton 22). Later, a royal patent allowing the Earl of Leicester’s Men to perform in any part of the realm was issued, on the proviso that the said Commedies, Tragedies, enterludes, and stage playes be by the master of oure Revells for the tyme beynge before sene and allowed (Chambers 87). The patent of commission for Edmund Tilney when he took up the position of Master allowed him to to order and reforme, auctorise and put downe [such plays], as shalbe thought meete or vnmeete,16 formally granting him powers of censorship and centralising control over players within the Revels office (Gurr 93).
Dutton considers that this was not primarily intended to be a censorship regime (though it certainly functioned as one), but rather a way of protecting actors, playwrights and their theatres from interference by other institutions (Dutton 32). The Master’s task was to determine whether a given play was fit to be performed before the Queen—a label that was likely to render said play fairly immune to other forms of control (Dutton 32). There is evidence to suggest that the Master would judge not just the content of the play, but the quality of the players (Dutton 34). He could also essentially give notes on plays, suggesting changes to be made to ensure that it was fit for performance (Dutton 34-35).


Theatre as a commercial enterprise was dependent on (and acted to reinforce) the patronage system, with the companies using the theatres requiring aristocratic protection to avoid too much interference from the Privy Council and local authorities (Dutton 32; Gurr 39). Patents from noble patrons helped travelling companies to get licences to play17 and their influence was used to get around local regulations on playing, such as an attempt by Burbage in 1594 to use the patronage of the Lord Admiral to convince the lord mayor of London to allow them to use the Cross Keys Inn during winter (Gurr 146). Local authorities were not always so easily swayed by powerful names, however, as an increasingly confrontational series of letters between the Earl of Warwick and the lord mayor of London about the reception of Earl of Warwick’s Men in the City is testament. The mayor urged that the company obteine lawefully to playe at the Theater or any other open place out of the Citie, being not vpon the Sondaye (Chambers 291). Players were officially employed as household servaunts and daylie wayters to their patrons, in order that they continue to have their protection when travelling (Chambers 268). Gurr suggests that the companies were used by their patrons to further their own prestige and power and to project a sense of superiority over their rivals at court (Gurr 40).

Liberty of Holywell

The Theatre was built in Shoreditch in the Liberty of Holywell (or Halliwell). Liberties were areas of land in which the rights traditionally reserved to the monarch had devolved into private hands, which meant that Holywell fell outside the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor of London and his officers (Dutton 31). The Theatre may have been located near a boundary, as a scuffle involving Burbage seems to have crossed into another area of jurisdiction (Dutton 31). Building theatres in areas beyond City jurisdiction appears to have been a trend, for obvious reasons (Dutton 31).
The opening of the Theatre was publically opposed by the City fathers, who—though they had no authority to intervene officially—instigated a pamphleting campaign against playing and playhouses after the Theatre opened for business in 1577 (Archer; Gurr 43). Commentators referred to the Theatre as a sumptuous18 and gorgeous19 painted stage,20 a spectacle and school for all wickedness and vice to be learned in,21 no better then houses of baudrie.22 The campaign continued until the Queen put her stamp of approval on playing in 1583 (Gurr 43).
Despite their lack of jurisdiction, the lord mayor of London and other city officials continued to try and restrict playing anywhere near London,23 including in Shoreditch, bemoaning in letters to officials, council meetings and proclamations the superfluous sort of men of the playhouses and that the exercise of those playes is a great hindraunce of the seruice of God.24 Playing at the theatre was seen to be inconuenient and dangerous, causing a perill of infection and danger of disorders,25 gathering great multitudes of the basist sort of people.26 Occasionally, the Privy Council agreed to step in and ban playing and other unlawfull or forbidden pastymes for short periods of time.27

Marprelate Controversy

The general campaign of puritan commentators against the Theatre and theatre in general (along with all other forms of entertainment such as bear-baiting and fencing), was energised by the Martin Marprelate controversy (Gurr 45; Chambers 202). The controversy arose around 1588 when satirical pamphlets written by one or more people under the pseudonym Martin began to be published and circulated, attacking the Church of England (Dutton 74). The pamphleteers were pursued by authorities with vigour, not only because of the level of criticism of the Anglican Church and its leaders, but also because they were acting without the necessary licences (Dutton 74).
An anti-Martinist, John Lyly eagerly defended the Church (as did other playwrights such as Nashe—all with proper authorisation and possibly official encouragement) and suggested in his writings that a representation of Martin found its way on the London stage, writing: Woould it not bee a fine Tragedie Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] that he that seekes to pull downe those that are set in authoritie above him, should be hoysted upon a tree above all other (Dutton 74, 75). The reluctance of Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels of the time, to allow anti-Martinist plays to be performed, despite the fact that they were on the same page with the government, was likely due to a desire to remove all such dangerous topics of Divinytie and of State from the public stage and public discourse in general (Dutton 75-76).
The Marprelate controversy is believed to have touched the Theatre directly, with one of the plays possibly being staged both at Paul’s by a boy company and at the Theatre: Lyly writes that to see it in Shoreditch would have cost two pence while it would have been four pence at Paul’s (Dutton 76). Lyly’s rather thorough knowledge of these plays led to speculation that he himself was involved in writing them, with one commentator remarked that Lyly hath not played the Vice master of Paules and the Foolemaster of the Theatre for naughtes (Dutton 76). Nashe writes that Martin was wormed and lanced upon the stage at the Theatre and that he took very grievously to made a May game.28
As a result of the controversy, the Master of the Revels was directed by the Privy Council to form a Commission of Censorship with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of London, with authority to review all plays in and about the Cyttie of London (Dutton 77) and stryke oute or reforme suche partes and matters as they shall fynd unfytt and undecent to be handled in playes, bothe for Divinitie and the State.29 Anyone disobeying the rulings of this Commission would be not onely sevearley punished but made [in]capable of the exercise of their profession forever hereafter (Dutton 77). The Commission, however, is never heard from, or about, again, with no evidence that it affected the Master’s office in any way, except to act as a little legitimising boost (Dutton 78).

Duopoly of 1594-1600

The Admiral’s Men at the Rose and the Chamberlain’s Men at the Theatre began with the decision by two Privy Councillors in 1594 to only grant licences to play to two companies at any given time (Gurr 56). The two companies were only allowed to play at their named playhouses, which cleverly circumvented any clash between the Privy Council and the Lord Mayor’s office, as both theatres were situated outside of City limits (Gurr 57). Though the companies attempted to get around the restriction from playing in indoor spaces, the arrangement resulted in six years of relatively stable theatre and may have quite substantially affected the plays and theatre practices themselves (Gurr 57).
There was one intrusion into the duopoly by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men in 1597, which arranged to play at the Swan despite the Privy Council’s decrees (Gurr 59). The Council responded, at the request of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London (Dutton 107)30 (interestingly, the Master of the Revels appears not to have been involved ), with a ban on all playing in July 1597, plus a quite drastic order to pull down all the playhouses, including specific mention of the Curtayne and the Theatre near to Shoreditch (Dutton 108; Dutton).31 This directive appears to have been ignored and may have been a slightly over-stated restraining order for the summer months, as the Privy Council was unlikely to so blithely order the destruction of private property, though there is little evidence to support this hypothesis (Gurr 59; Dutton 108). It was not the first time the Mayor had sought the destruction of the playhouses to no effect (Chambers 283). Playing at the Theatre and the Rose was relicensed in October and the Earl of Pembroke’s Men’s fate was sealed after the Isle of Dogs controversy (Gurr 59).
The Theatre’s part in the golden duopoly came to an end when the company’s lease on the land expired in 1597, a situation unlikely to have been helped by the property’s staunchly anti-theatre landlord, though its timbers were reconstituted into the Globe two years later (Gurr 61, 63).

Plays Performed

This table is the result of logical inference, in light of the conditions of extant information detailed in the report that follows. The plays with asterisks have direct evidence or are alluded to in connection with the Theatre. All listings prior to the duopoly of 1594 are necessarily speculative. The table reflects Andrew Gurr’s repertory studies as well as the collated titles in Alfred Harbage’s Annals and E. K. Chambers’ Elizabethan Stage. The approximate dates for the first performances of plays at the Theatre are listed. Plays first performed in 1598 may actually have been staged at the Curtain rather than the Theatre, because the Chamberlain’s Men moved there before 8 September 1598.
Year Play Author Company Type Earliest Text
1576-1577 Clyomon and Clamydes Anonymous Queen Elizabeth’s Men Romance 1599
1578 Catiline’s Conspiracies* Stephen Gosson Earl of Leicester’s Men Didactic History Lost
1578 The Blacksmith’s Daughter* Anonymous Earl of Leicester’s Men Heroical Romance Lost
1580 Calistus*32 Anonymous Unknown Tragical Comedy Lost (?)
1580 The Four Sons of Fabius (The Fabii)* Anonymous Earl of Warwick’s Men (?) Classical Pseudo-History Lost
1581 The Three Ladies of London Robert Wilson Earl of Leicester’s Men Moral 1584
1581 Caesar and Pompey* Anonymous Unknown Classical History Lost
1581-1582 Praise at Parting Stephen Gosson Earl of Leicester’s Men Moral Lost
1581-1582 Captain Mario* Stephen Gosson Earl of Leicester’s Men Comedy Lost
1582 A Virgin Play* Anonymous Unknown Unknown Lost
1582 The Play of Plays and Pastimes*33 Anonymous34 Unknown Moral Lost
1587 The Spanish Tragedy (Hieronimo is Mad Again) Thomas Kyd Lord Strange’s Men (by 1592) Tragedy c. 1592
1587 Alphonsus, King of Aragon Robert Greene Queen Elizabeth’s Men Heroical Romance 1599
1587-1588 1 and 2 Tamburlaine* Christopher Marlowe Admiral’s Men Heroical Romance 1590
1588 The Wounds of Civil War, or Marius and Scilla35 Thomas Lodge Admiral’s Men Classical History 1594
1588 A Looking Glass for London and England Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge Queen Elizabeth’s Men (?) Biblical Moral 1594
1589 [Ur-]Hamlet* Anonymous36 Chamberlain’s Men, Admiral’s Men (by 1594) Tragedy Lost
1589 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay Robert Greene Lord Strange’s Men (by 1592) Comedy 1594
1589 John a Kent and John a Cumber37 Anthony Munday Admiral’s Men (?), Lord Strange’s Men (?) Pseudo-History 1590 (?)
1589 The Battle of Alcazar38 George Peele Admiral’s Men (by 1594) Foreign History 1594
1590 Fair Em, The Miller’s Daughter Anonymous39 Lord Strange’s Men (?), Admiral’s Men (?), Chamberlain’s Men (?) Romantic Comedy 1593 (?)
1590 Edward III, The Reign of the King William Shakespeare (?) Admiral’s Men (?) History 1596
1590 Rowland (Rowland and the Sexton) William Kempe Unkown Jig Lost
1590 (?) 2 Henry VI William Shakespeare Earl of Pembroke’s Men History 1594
1590 (?) 1 Henry VI William Shakespeare Admiral’s Men, Chamberlain’s Men History 1623
1591 Titus Andronicus William Shakespeare Earl of Pembroke’s Men Tragedy 1594
1591 Orlando Furioso40 Robert Greene Queen Elizabeth’s Men Romantic Comedy 1594
1592 Edward II Christopher Marlowe Earl of Pembroke’s Men History 1594
1592-1593 (?) 3 Henry VI William Shakespeare Earl of Pembroke’s Men History 1595
1593 (?) The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1623
1593-1594 (?) Richard II William Shakespeare Earl of Pembroke’s Men, Chamberlain’s Men History 1597
159441 The Comedy of Errors William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1623
1594-159542 Love’s Labour’s Lost William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1597
1594-1595 (?) Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Tragedy 1597
1595 A Midsummer Night’s Dream William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1600
1596 King John William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men History 1623
1596-1597 1 Henry IV William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men History 1598
1597-1598 2 Henry IV William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men History 1600
1596-1597 (?) The Merchant of Venice William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1600
1597-1598 (?) The Merry Wives of Windsor William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1602
1597 A Warning for Fair Women Anonymous Chamberlain’s Men Tragedy 1599
1598 Every Man in His Humour (?) Ben Jonson Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1616
1598 Much Ado About Nothing (?) William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men Comedy 1600
1598-1599 Henry V (?) William Shakespeare Chamberlain’s Men History 1600
1598-1600 A Larum for London (?) Anonymous Chamberlain’s Men History 1602


After the Theatre’s construction in 1576, playwrights needed to cater to audience demands for novelty. Companies that previously travelled across the countryside started playing in the suburbs every day of the week and needed a fresh play every day (Gurr 21). Thirty-five playing companies have been recorded in the years immediately following 1576. In 1578, John Stockwood spoke of eighte ordinarie places of playing around London, suggesting that eight of these companies played in the London area at any given moment during this period (qtd. in Ingram 240). Ingram conservatively guesses that each company played for only four days each week and nine months in the year, calculating over twelve hundred performances annually. This would have required at least one hundred different play-texts every year (Ingram 240-241). The number of plays written between 1560 and 1642 was probably at least three times the thousand or so titles that survive and at least six times the number of surviving texts (Gurr 27). The Privy Council order of 1 August 1577 evidences the first certain date for the Theatre in action (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram). On 24 August 1578, Stockwood sermonised:
What should I speake of beastlye Playes Gap in transcription. Reason: (AB)[…] haue we not houses of purpose built with great charges for the maintenance of them Gap in transcription. Reason: (AB)[…] [?] I know not how I might with the godly learned especially more discommende the gorgeous Playing place erected in the fieldes, than to terme it, as they please to haue it called, a Theatre, that is, euen after the maner of the olde heathenish Theatre at Rome. (qtd. in Egan 8)
This is one of the earliest examples of evidence that links the content of the plays to the physical structure of the building itself.
Direct evidence for performances of plays at the Theatre before 1594 is rare. Most of what we know about the operation of the Theatre is derived either from a set of legal documents dating from the late 1580s and early 1590s or from allusions in other texts. In 1579, Stephen Gosson wrote that his own plays, The Blacksmith’s Daughter and Catiline’s Conspiracies, were usually brought in at the Theater (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram). In 1582, Gosson tells us that The Play of Plays and Pastimes and The Fabii (The Four Sons of Fabius) played at the Theatre, mentioning Caesar and Pompey and his own Captain Mario as well (qtd. in Chambers 394). Anthony Munday tells us of the performance of Calistus at the Theatre, wherein the bawdresse Scelestina inflamed the maiden Melibeia with her sorceries (qtd. in Chambers 209). On 22 February 1582, Richard Madox went to the Theatre to see a scurvy play set out all by one virgin, where there proved a freemartin43 without voice, so that we stayed not the matter44 (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 67). This has been recorded in the Annals of English Drama as A Virgin Play (Harbage, Schoenbaum, and Stoler Wagonheim 50). While it is highly unlikely that a woman would have appeared on stage before the Restoration, Wickham, Berry, and Ingram deem this one of the very rare indications that a woman might appear on a regular, professional stage in London at this time (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 343). Audience members sometimes neglect to mention the title of a play. In Martins Months Minde (1589), Thomas Nashe notes a play that cursedly handled Martin Marprelate at the Theatre, but records nothing else about it (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 357). Most of these early plays are lost. Other documents called plots have survived which inform us of the number of regular actors, hired men and boys, the distribution of roles, and stage properties (Bevington 104). From such fragmentary documents and obscure allusions we can make claims about make-up and costumes such as the black-face employed in The Battle of Alcazar45 or the pale visage and black clothing of the ghost in [Ur]-Hamlet.46 Most of our evidence for play-titles comes from Philip Henslowe’s Diary.47 No similar records for any company or playhouse survive, and parish and town records do not in most instances name the plays they performed. Even Henslowe’s accounts give little description beyond titles of plays and the finances involved.
One way of deducing which plays were staged at the Theatre is to examine the repertories of companies that performed there. Unfortunately, evidence on the activities of various London companies in the earlier years is sparse, and these companies had not yet developed settled practices in playhouse use (Gurr 21). Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, obtained a patent in 1574 which gave his company’s leader, James Burbage, the confidence to build the Theatre (Gurr 21). So we might assume that the Earl of Leicester’s Men were the main occupants of the Theatre in its early stages. However, we do not know if Burbage saw his building as a home for his company or as a separate business venture. He gave up Leicester’s livery when he became impresario at the Theatre, taking on Henry Carey’s instead. Burbage was connected to his former company, but he also leased his new space to other groups (Gurr 189). The Admiral’s Men with the famous Edward Alleyn performed Christopher Marlowe’s early plays at the Theatre until 1591 (Gurr 88). Stories of the Queen’s Men in the 1580s, mostly anecdotes about Richard Tarlton, indicate that they played at the Theatre.48 There is mention of Earl of Warwick’s Men49 (later Oxford’s) companies as well (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 332).50 Gurr suggests that the Earl of Leicester’s Men may have joined Lord Strange’s Men after Leicester died in 1588, and that they played at Theatre until 1591 (Gurr 259). The new Earl of Pembroke’s Men of 1591 were likely occupants of the Theatre until 1594 when some members joined the Chamberlain’s Men. The new Earl of Pembroke’s Men was possibly the result of a quarrel between James Burbage and Edward Alleyn in May 1591. Alleyn and the Lord Strange’s Men left the Theatre for the Rose in 1592. This left Burbage with a vacancy. Gurr suggests that he may well have arranged to form a new company by applying to Pembroke to sponsor them (Gurr 267). This is important because when actors moved from one company to the next, they sometimes brought their plays with them.
It is not until the duopoly arrangement of 1594 that we can be certain of the Theatre’s sole occupants—the Chamberlain’s Men. According to Egan, from this date we can infer that, a new play written for the Chamberlain’s Men would have been first performed at the Theatre, and that the dramatist writing it would most likely know that (Egan 99). Shakespeare, as part of the Chamberlain’s Men, would have taken the architecture of the Theatre into account. As Stern observes, A fixed prop, the playhouse itself dictated and circumscribed imaginative space for Shakespeare’s audience and it prescribed the imaginative world of Shakespeare himself too (Stern 101). While it was usual practice for play texts to belong to companies, we know from Henslowe’s records that some texts stayed with the playhouse. It is tempting to assume that Burbage bought play texts specifically for his theatre in the same vein as Henslowe. However, the lack of standardisation in theatrical practices of the time prevents us from asserting this.
The Theatre was a venue for performance, but it is by no means clear that these were limited to plays. The visual performances of jugglers, jesters, acrobats, rope-dancers, bear-wards and fencers are lost when we privilege the written words of extant play-scripts. Richard Tarlton of the Queen’s Men was not only a clown, but a Master of Fencing (Nungezer). Sword fighting was displayed at the Theatre on 25 August 1578 and periodically afterwards (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 340). Some evidence remains of William Kempe’s applauded merryments recorded on the title page of A Knack to Know a Knave and we know of his singing talents from the script of the jig Singing Simpkin. Originally a German form, jigs were skits of musical comedy, usually domestic and farcical. Simpkin, for example, hides himself in a chest in order to cuckold an old man and trick a soldier who is trying to seduce the same woman. Kempe’s jigs were a prominent feature of the Chamberlain’s Men’s repertory during 1590s, so Kempe probably performed them at the Theatre until its close in 1598.

Fashionable Trends

Gurr observes that [m]ost of the evidence about the repertory that James Burbage planted in his playhouses through the 1570s suggested that it had little new to offer at first (Gurr 143-144). The real changes in material from moralistic or romance plays like Sir Cylomon and Clamydes51 to powerful plays such as The Spanish Tragedy (1587) occurred as part of a delayed response to the new reality of fixed staging. Only in the suburbs, away from the surveillance of the city and only with the advent of captive audiences who had gathered and paid exclusively to experience a play could players take more risks (Gurr 143-144).
Plays took place in the middle of the day, taking approximately three hours including the two hours traffic of the stage and the musical numbers that accompanied each performance (Gurr 38). While we have no evidence for Sir Philip Sidney attending such outdoor theatres, his Apology for Poetry (written c. 1582 and printed 1595) presents an aristocratic and academic objection to the kind of stage realism and clowning that would have taken place at the Theatre. His condemnation of dragons breathing fire and smoke, small numbers of swordsmen representing armies, doggerel rhyming, the misuse of classical unities, and mongrel tragi-comedy paints a negative picture of public theatre (Gurr 130-131).52 Playwrights for the Theatre generally ignored criticisms like Sidney’s because their business of playing catered to popular taste. The audiences of the Theatre were rowdy and physical in their responses. This lead Gosson to complain in 1596, that in publike Theatres, when any notable shew passeth over the stage, the people arise in their seats and stand upright with delight and eagernesse to view it well (Gurr 52). John Lyly’s plea in the prologue to Sappho and Phao (c. 1584) also suggests that the Theatre audiences were noisy (Gurr 52). In the daylight of the Theatre, the audiences were always visible, creating a metatheatrical, self-conscious awareness that required a willing suspension of disbelief.
Between 1587 and 1594, writers created large plays demanding greater sizes in casts. The 2,220 lines of Clyomon and Clamydes reflect the growth of the standard company from five in the 1520s, to the large plays which exceeded the eleven men and four boys playing Tamburlaine. Even with doubling of lesser parts, plays like The Wounds of Civil War, Edward III, Henry VI, Parts 1-3, Titus Andronicus, Richard III, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and The Taming of the Shrew required up to twenty-four players, more than before or after this period. After Lord Chamberlain set up the duopoly in 1594 however, casts generally stuck to little more than eleven men and four boys (Gurr 146). From 1587, the Theatre staged plays that mirrored international politics. No indoor theatre could provide the space for the drums and sword play required to transpose the emotional immediacy of militarism and hostility between England and Spain (Gurr 161). Current affairs became increasingly apparent on the stage with docu-drama style plays like Arden of Faversham. Neither the stage provenance, nor the authorship of this play is known (Gurr 172). However, the Chamberlain’s Men staged a similar play at Theatre called A Warning for Fair Women. Both plays are based on a wife-murder from Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles.
Acting styles also seem to have evolved over this period. It was at the Theatre that Londoners witnessed the formation of personation. This term, coming into use in the 1590s, signalled the player pretending to be a real human being rather than an abstract concept, as well as stage heroes with whom the audience could personally identify. Tamburlaine, Hieronimo, and Faustus exemplify this phenomenon (Gurr 166). Tamburlaine launched a fashion Thomas Nashe condemned as the swelling bombast of a bragging blanke verse (Gurr 166). The influence of Marlowe’s blood-and-thunder play can be seen in Alphonsus of Aragon, The Battle of Alcazar, and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Gurr suggests these plays as likely candidates for the Theatre, based on style (Gurr 167).
From 1594 to the last days of the Theatre we can study the repertory of the Chamberlain’s Men more directly, noting too the gradual divergence between the types of plays at the Theatre and those at the Rose. This must however be to some extent a conjectural comparison as little of the repertory survives. The Rose repertory is much wider, with over eighty extant play titles compared to the fifteen or so that survive from Shakespeare’s company. Some generalisations may nonetheless be made. At first both theatres staged popular plays based on the Robin Hood stories like John a Kent and John a Cumber. After 1594, the Theatre staged mostly English histories and love comedies. Towards the end of the Theatre’s life-span the Chamberlain’s Men adopted Ben Jonson with his humours comedies—a trend started at the Rose (Gurr 177). The appearance of Jonson at the Theatre was the direct result of his murdering Henslowe’s player, Gabriel Spencer. Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour initiated the practice of railing at the theatre. Railing is a unique form of satire which, according to Gurr, became the chief and most conspicuous alternative to the naïve illusionism of the heroics of Marlowe and the citizen repertory (Gurr 185). While the Admiral’s Men at the Rose indulged in citizen comedy, Shakespeare only approached it distantly in his Merry Wives of Windsor. Both companies may have staged the citizen comedy Fair Em.53 Shakespeare’s company gained a reputation for its plays about love, appealing to Inns of Court students. Marston’s character Luscus kept common-place books of Shakespeare’s verse, quoting Romeo when expedient. By contrast, Henslowe’s playwrights did not attempt to follow this romantic trend. The Rose was in some ways more conservative than the Theatre. At the Theatre, Shakespeare dared to uphold the power of love over parental authority in plays like Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and even The Taming of the Shrew (Gurr 180).
The Chamberlain’s Men were at the Theatre when the Privy Council ordered the closure of London playhouses (specifically) the Theatre and Curtain in the summer of 1597. They were most likely also there in the autumn of 1597, when all the playhouses reopened. They moved to the Curtain for the autumn season of 1598, leaving the Theatre unfrequented. Evidence for this is found in John Marston’s Scourge of Villainy, where the satirist states that the Chamberlain’s Men in Romeo and Juliet received Curtain plaudities. Edward Guilpin also comments on this in his Skialetheia (1598):
but see yonder
One, like the unfrequented Theatre,
Walks in dark silence and vast solitude
(qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 156)

Acting Space

Because we have no illustrations of the Theatre, play-texts play a major part in modern conceptions of the Theatre space. One can make positive suggestions by observing that Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice require an upper level for their balcony scenes. Egan argues that we can rule out features such as a floor-level stage trap, pillars, or a stage cover for the heavens as none of Marlowe’s plays required them (Egan 6). He also observes that although the 1592 edition of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy has a scene that suggests a stage post as a stake for tying a prisoner to, it was probably a property stake. However, we should not assume that Marlowe and Kyd had the Theatre in mind at the time of writing. Even if a play does not require a structural feature, it may still exist. Robert Greene’s stage directions suggest the need for a heavens. His Comical History of Alphonsus, King of Aragon has an opening stage direction that reads: Let Venus be let down from the top of the stage, and at the end: Exit Venus. Or if you can conveniently, let a chair come down from the top of the stage, and draw her up. Even so, Greene allows for the possibility that she may enter and exit on foot. A similarly ambiguous stage direction in the 1599 edition of Greene’s A Looking Glass for London refers to a throne which appears to be set downe over the Stage, but Wickham, Berry, and Ingram claim that set downe over here means placed upon (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 12). Using stage directions as records is problematic because we do not know whether they were written for players or readers (Gurr and Ichikawa 44). A stage direction written for a specific scene may have been written precisely because of its unconventional nature. Because the plays that suggest pillars or a heaven date to after the building of the Rose, Egan suggests that there was no use for a turret or house. Nevertheless, he is careful to remind us that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (Egan 7).
Using play-texts as evidence is dangerous because of the function of the printed texts that survive. In the 1570s, plays began to be censored and licensed for performance by the Master of the Revels. At this time the prompt copy or playhouse manuscript became important as it carried his signature allowing its performance. Town mayors demanded to see this before they agreed to anything being staged under their authority. These manuscripts thus contained the fullest text that the company could legally perform. They could cut it, but not add to it. Such manuscripts, like the one which provided the long folio of Hamlet, provided the maximum content (Gurr and Ichikawa 23). Yet, how often this maximum was realised on stage is uncertain. Playwrights usually gave up all rights to their play manuscripts when they sold them to playing companies (Gurr and Ichikawa 20). The same caution applied to analysing theatrical practices must be used when interpreting the play-texts themselves. Individual instances should not be assumed to prove a general practice.
The little surviving evidence for performances at the Theatre indicates that it was a loud and colourful place. The Shoreditch amphitheatre allowed for experimentation in vulgar tastes that appealed to the people. For this, the Theatre was heavily criticised. Such criticism has left us vital clues as to the nature and existence of plays and other performances at the theatre. Audiences expected to see large casts, swordfights, musical numbers, visual performances and jigs. They echoed the bombastic delivery of actors like Edward Alleyn, Richard Burbage, and William Kempe with laughter and cheer. The Theatre housed an eclectic assortment of genres which Shakespeare made use of, staging plays that transgressed societal and academic norms.
For information about the Theatre, a modern map marking the site where the it once stood, and a walking tour that will take you to the site, visit the Shakespearean London Theatres (ShaLT) article on the Theatre.


  1. It is possible that the artist (Alan Sorrell) may have (unconsciously) overlaid what we know of London playhouses onto his impression of the Verulamium theatre. What has been excavated of the theatre, however, supports Sorrell’s envisaging of it. (EB)
  2. A modern translation is available under the title The First Treatise on Museums. (EB)
  3. Haag says that the Archduke’s collection was already a major attraction for interested princes and men-of-letters from all over Europe during [his] lifetime (Haag). (EB)
  4. The idea of the theatre building as a representation of the universe is present in the naming of both incarnations of Burbage’s theatre—the 1577 Theatre and 1599 Globe. (EB)
  5. The image was first identified as being the Curtain by Leslie Hotson in 1954 but was then re-labelled as the Theatre in Shoreditch by Sidney Fisher in 1964. Fisher’s identification then stood for thirty-seven years until it was re-evaluated by Herbert Berry who confirmed that Leslie Hotson was correct and the image was indeed the Curtain. (TP)
  6. Floor-on-floor would require one wall to rise in a single plane while the others had jetties so that each storey overhung the one below. (TP)
  7. It is also great corruption of youth with vnchast and wicked matters, occasion of muche incontinence, practises of many ffrayes, querrells, and other disorders and inconueiniences, letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lord Chancellor (qtd. in Chambers 279). (CM)
  8. It is an euident token of a wicked time when plaiers wexe so riche that they can build suche houses, written after the building of the Theatre and the Curtain (qtd. in Chambers 269). (CM)
  9. See Lent for more information. (KL)
  10. The Lord Mayor advised that players obteine lawefully to playe at the Theater or any other open place out of the Citie, being not vpon the Sondaye (qtd. in Chambers 291). (CM)
  11. Where it happened on Sunday last that some great disorder was committed at the Theatre, I [the Lord Mayor writing to the Lord Chancellor] sent for the under sheriff of Middlesex to understand the circumstances, to the intent that by myself or by him I might have caused such redress to be had as in duty and discretion I might, and, therefore, did also send for the players to have appeared afore me, and the rather because those plays do make assemblies of citizens and their families of whom I have charge, 10 April 1580 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 342). (CM)
  12. The juries on behalf of our lady the Queen present that John Brayne Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] and James Burbage Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] on 21 February Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] and divers other days and times before and after, congregated and maintained illicit assemblies of people to hear and see certain Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] plays or interludes put into effect and practised by the same John Brayne and James Burbage and divers other persons unknown at a certain place called the Theatre in Holywell Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] On account of which illicit assembly of people, great affrays, reviling, tumult and near insurrections, and divers other malefactions and enormities were then and there made and perpetrated by a great many ill-disposed people in a great disturbance of the peace of our lady the Queen, and also subversion of good order and government, and also to the peril of the lives of divers good subjects of the said lady Queen being in the same place, and also contrary to the peace of the same lady Queen and likewise the form of the statute for that purpose decreed and provided, etc., 21 February 1580 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 341). (CM)
  13. The privy council ordered that: A letter [be sent] to the Lord Wentworth, Master of the Rolls, and Mr Lieutenant of the Tower, signifying unto them that for the avoiding of the sickness likely to happen through the heat of the weather and assemblies of the people of London to plays, her highness’s pleasure is that as the Lord Mayor hath taken order within the City, so they immediately Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] shall take order with such as are and do use to play Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] within that county [Middlesex] Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] as the Theatre and such like, shall forbear any more to play until Michaelmas be past at the least, 1 August 1577 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 336). (CM)
  14. That they play not openly till the whole death in London haue ben by xx daies under 50 a weke, nor longer than it shal so continue, Corporation of London Rules for Playing, as a response to a petition by the Queen’s Men to allow them a stable environment for playing, 1584 (qtd. in Chambers 298). (CM)
  15. The Quenes Maiestie doth straightly forbyd all maner interludes to be playde eyther openly or priuately, except for the same be notified before hande and Licenced within any Citie or towne corporate, by the Maior or other chiefe officers of the same, and within any shyre, by suche as shalbe Lieutenauntes for the Quenes Maiestie in the same shyre, or by two of the Justices of peax inhabyting within that part of the shire where any shalbe played, Proclamation 509, 1559 (qtd. in Chambers 263). (CM)
  16. [A]ucthorise and commaunde our said Servant Edmunde Tinley Maister of our said Revells Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] to warne commaunde and appointe in all places within this our Realme of England, aswell as within francheses and liberties as without, all and eury plaier or plaiers with their playmakers, either belonginge to any noble man or otherwise Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] to appeare before him with all suche plaies Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] and them to presente and recite before our said Servant or his sufficient deputie Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] to order and reforme, auctorise and put downe, as shalbe thought meete or vnmeete, Patent of Commission for Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, 1581 (qtd. in Chambers 285). (CM)
  17. Where my servauntes, bringers hereof unto you, be suche as ar plaiers of interludes; And for the same have the Licence of diverse of my Lords here, under the seales and handis, to plaie in diverse shieres within the realme under there aucthorities, as maie amplie appeare unto your L. by the same licence Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] that they maie have your hand and seale to ther licence for the like libertye in Yorke shire; being honest men, Lord Robert Dudley to the Earl of Shrewsbury (qtd. in Chambers 264). (CM)
  18. Behold the sumptuous Theatre houses, Churchman on the Theatre, 3 November 1577 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 337). (CM)
  19. The Theatre, the Curtain and other places of plays in the City Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] The gorgeous playing place erected in the [Finsbury Fields], Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] as they please to have called it, a Theatre, Stockwood, from his A Sermon at Paul’s Cross (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 339). (CM)
  20. [F]or some malt-conceived comedy fit for the Theatre or some other painted stage, Harveys Letter Book, 1579 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 341). (CM)
  21. A spectacle and school for all wickedness and vice to be learned in Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] [are] those places Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] which are made up and builded for such plays and interludes, as the Theatre and Curtain is and other such like places, Northbrooke, 2 December 1577 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 337). (CM)
  22. Would to god these comon plaies were exiled for altogether, as semenaries of impiety, & their theaters pulled downe, as no better then houses of baudrie. It is an euident token of a wicked time when plaiers wexe so riche that they can build suche houses, William Harrison, written probably after the building of the Theatre and the Curtain (qtd. in Chambers 269). (CM)
  23. Attempt by the Lord Mayor to order a prohibition on building playhouses within this Cyttye, or the lybertyes and suburbes of the same and that any existing playhouses be pulled downe & defaced, 1581 (qtd. in Chambers 283). (CM)
  24. [T]he players of playes, which are vsed at the Theatre, and other such places, and tumbleres and such like are very superfluous sort of men, and of suche facultie as the lawes haue disalowed, and their exercise of those playes is a great hindraunce of the seruice of God Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] It is also great corruption of youth with vnchast and wicked matters, occasion of muche incontinence, practises of many ffrayes, querrells, and other disorders and inconueiniences, letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lord Chancellor, 1580 (qtd. in Chambers 279). (CM)
  25. Ther ar certain fencers that haue set vp billes and meane to play a prise at the Theatre on Tuesday next, which is May eue. How manie waies the same maie be inconuenient and dangerous, specially in that they desire to passe with pomp the cities, yowe can consider, namelie the statute against men of that facultie, the perill of infection, the danger of disorders at such assemblies, Lord Mayor to a Justice of Middlesex (qtd. in Chambers 293). (CM)
  26. Among other we finde one very great and dangerous inconuenience, the assemblie of people to playes, beare bayting, fencers and prophane spectacles at the Theatre and Curtaine and other like places, to which doe resorte great multitudes of the basist sort of people, Lord Mayor to Sir Francis Walsingham, asking him to deal to the liberties, beyond his control, 1583 (qtd. in Chambers 294). (CM)
  27. Moreover for avoidinge of their unlawfull assemblies in those quarters, yt is thoughte meete you shall take order that there be noe playes used in anye place neere thereaboutes, as the Theator, Curtayne, or other usuall places where the same are commonly used, nor no other sorte of unlawfull or forbidden pastymes that drawe together the baser sorte of people, from hence forth untill the feast of St. Michaell, Privy Council, 1592 (qtd. in Chambers 310). (CM)
  28. Martin Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] being Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] sundry ways very cursedly handled, as Gap in transcription. Reason: (CM)[…] wormed and lanced, that he took very grievously to be made a May game upon the stage, Nashe, 1589 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 357). (CM)
  29. [A]uthoytie hereof to delyver unto them their bookes, that they maye consider of the matters of their comedyes and tragedyes, and thereupon to stryke oute or reforme suche partes and matters as they shall fynd unfytt and undecent to be handled in playes, bothe for Divinitie and the State, comaunding the said companies of players in her Majesties name, that they forbeare to present and playe publickly anie comedy or tragedy other then suche as they three shall have seene and allowed, Privy Council, 1589 (qtd. in Chambers 306). (CM)
  30. [W]e are now again most humble and earnest suitors to your Honours to direct your letters as well to ourselves as to the Justices of Peace of Surrey and Middlesex for the present stay, and final suppressing, of the said Stage Plays, as well at the Theatre, Curtain and Bankside as in all other places in and about the City. Whereby we doubt not but, the opportunity and the very cause of many disorders being taken away, we shall be more able to keep the worse sort of such evil and disordered people in better order than heretofore we have been, Court of Common Council at Guildhall writes to the Privy Council, 1597 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 107) (CM)
  31. Her Majesty being informed that there are very great disorders committed in the common playhouses, both by lewd matters that are handled on the stafes and by resort and confluence of bad people, hath given direcition that not only no plays shall be used within London or about the City, or in any public place during this time of summer, but that also those playouses that are erected and built only for such purposes shall be plucked down—namely the Curtain, and the Theatre near Shoreditch, or any other within that County, Privy Council order to the magistrates in Middlesex and Surrey, 1597 (qtd. in Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 100) (CM)
  32. Possibly same as Calisto and Melebea, 1527? or Celestina, 1598? (AB)
  33. Possibly same as Delight, 1580? (AB)
  34. Possibly Thomas Lodge. (AB)
  35. I.e., Sulla. (AB)
  36. Possibly Thomas Kyd. (AB)
  37. Also known as The Wise Man of West Chester. It was taken to the Rose after 1594. Its success prompted Philip Henslowe to ask Anthony Munday to write more Robin Hood inspired plays for his playhouse. (AB)
  38. Possibly same as Mully Molloco, 1599. (AB)
  39. Possibly Richard Wilson. (AB)
  40. Possibly same as Brandimer, 1589? (AB)
  41. Annals lists 1592. Possibly performed by Lord Strange’s Men. (AB)
  42. Gurr gives 1591. Not listed in the Annals until 1595 by an unknown company at first and later by the Chamberlain’s Men. (AB)
  43. I.e., an imperfect female. (AB)
  44. This is the testimony of an anonymous speaker. (AB)
  45. Plots provided a skeleton of the play through entrances and exits. The Admiral’s Men’s plot for The Battle of Alcazar gives the following description: The Battell of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugall, and Abdelmelec king of Marocco (qtd. in Chambers 459-460). This may be the same play as the lost Muly Mulloco as Abdelemec also went by this name in productions by the Lord Strange’s Men. (AB)
  46. In Wits Misery (1596), Thomas Lodge described the son of Beelzebub and his wife as walking for the most part in black under colour of gravity, and looks as pale as the vizard of the ghost which cried so miserably at the Theatre, like an oyseter wife, Hamlet, revenge (Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 367). (AB)
  47. See Henslowe’s Diary for more information. (KL)
  48. In Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596), Sir John Harrington mentions a dirty word, prepuce, which was admitted into the Theatre with great applause by the mouth of Master Tarlton, the excellent comedian. A letter from William Fleetwood (Recorder of London) sent a letter Sir William Cecil which also suggests the Queen’s Men were here (see Wickham, Berry, and Ingram 345-346). (AB)
  49. The Four Sons of Fabius was likely performed at the Theatre in early 1580 by Earl of Warwick’s Men as they had performed it at court that same year. The Dutton brothers of the Earl of Warwick’s Men became the leaders of Oxford’s men in 1580. This is recorded in the preface to a squib (satirical writing): The Duttons and theyr fellow-players forsakyng the Erie of Warwycke theyr mayster, becames followers of the Erie of Oxford, and wrot themselves his COMOEDIANS, which certayne Gentlemen altered and made CAMOELIANS (qtd. in Chambers 98-99). (AB)
  50. While Chambers suggests that Lyly may have written for the Theatre, he is more likely to have written for the elite audiences of the court and indoor theatres. The Oxford Boys performed Lyly’s plays (see Chambers 395). (AB)
  51. This play and other romances which formerly toured internationally were the staple of the amphitheatre playhouses at first. The following description is from Thomas Creede’s 1599 quarto: The Historie of the two valiant Knights, Syr Clyomon knight of the Golden Sheeld, sonne to the King of Denmarke: And Clamydes the White Knight, sonne to the King of Suauia. As it hath been sundry times Acted by her Maiesties Players (qtd. in Chambers 6). (AB)
  52. The tragical comedie of Calistus played at the theatre in 1580. (AB)
  53. The quarto of Richard III provides evidence for its revival as does an entry in the diary of John Mannigham. Knutson cites this evidence as making possible the revival of Fair Em by the Chamberlain’s Men in 1594-1595 (see Sorlien 75). (AB)


Cite this page

MLA citation

Bloomfield, Eleanor, Tayla Pitt, Caitlin Merriman, Anya Banerjee, and Kate LeBere. The Theatre. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, Draft.

Chicago citation

Bloomfield, Eleanor, Tayla Pitt, Caitlin Merriman, Anya Banerjee, and Kate LeBere. The Theatre. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. Draft.

APA citation

Bloomfield, E., Pitt, T., Merriman, C., Banerjee, A., & LeBere, K. 2022. The Theatre. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from Draft.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Bloomfield, Eleanor
A1  - Pitt, Tayla
A1  - Merriman, Caitlin
A1  - Banerjee, Anya
A1  - LeBere, Kate
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - The Theatre
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

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