The Theatre

The Theatre

The Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Shoreditch (in Curtain Road, part of the modern London Borough of Hackney), just outside the City of London. It was the second permanent theatre ever built in England, after the Red Lion, and the first successful one. 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.

On 6 August 2008 archaeologists from the Museum of London excavating in New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch announced that they had found the footings of a polygonal structure which they believe to be the remains of the north-eastern corner of the building's foundations. [cite news|url=|title=The Bard's 'first theatre' found|date=2008-08-06|work=BBC News|accessdate=2008-08-06] The site is to be used to build a new theatre for the Tower Theatre Company.


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. [Mullaney, 1988.]

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. 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. [Egan, 2005.]

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 could either stand or, for a third penny, 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, 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 at The Theatre until 1597. Poet, playwright and actor William Shakespeare was also in the employ of the Company and some of his early plays, possibly including an early version of "Hamlet" (the so-called "Ur-Hamlet") had their première at The Theatre.

Towards the end of 1596, problems arose with the property's landlord, Giles Allen. Consequently, 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. ["Skialetheia," Edward Guilpin, 1598]

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 workmen, they dismantled the theatre on the night of 28 December 1598 and moved the structure piecemeal to Street's yard near to Bridewell. With the onset of more favourable weather in the following spring, the material was ferried over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe. [cite book |last=Shapiro |first=James |authorlink=James S. Shapiro|coauthors= |title=1599—a year in the life of William Shakespeare |year=2005 |publisher=Faber and Faber |location=London |isbn=0-571-21480-0 .] [Schoenbaum 1987: 206-209]

ee also

*Inn-yard theatre

New DiscoveriesAugust 6, 2008 -Shakespeare's first playhouse "The Theatre" was discovered on the plot of land on New Inn Broadway, once outside the jurisdiction of the City of London. This is one of London's most lasting secrets being discovered, since this will not only provide extrinsic material to describe the architecture of theatre during the 16th Century period but also the importance of performance, the scale of audience members and profit made, as well as a comparative point to the development of theatre there after.

According to Jo Lyon, senior archaeologist of the Museum of London Archaeology, "Shakespeare is such an enormous part of our cultural heritage and the way we define ourselves. It's a highly significant find" (Hamilton, Fiona. "Dig at new theatre site reveals Shakespeare's first playhouse" The Times. August 6, 2008 [Lexisnexis] ). After all, it's another piece to have a "tantalising glimpse into Shakespeare's city" (Jack Lohman, director of the Museum of London / Hamilton, Fiona. "Dig at new theatre site reveals Shakespeare's first playhouse" The Times. August 6, 2008 [Lexisnexis] )



*De Young, J. and Miller, J. (1998) "London Theatre Walks", New York: Applause Books.
* [ Gabriel Egan (2005), "Platonism and bathos in Shakespeare and other early modern drama"] accessed 13 November 2006.
*Gurr, Andrew. "The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642." Third edition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
*Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. "The Oxford Companion to the Theatre." 4th edition. London: Oxford UP, 1983. p. 964.
*Moreton, W. H. C. (1976) "Shakespeare came to Shoreditch" LBH Library Services [ Text] accessed 10 November 2006.
*Mullaney, S. (1988) "The Place of the Stage: Licence, Play and Power in Renaissance England". Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
*Schoenbaum, S. (1987) "William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life". Oxford University Press.
*Thomson, Peter. "The Theatre". in Banham, Martin, ed. "The Cambridge Guide to Theatre", London: Cambridge UP, 1992.

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