Theatre in Tudor London

Theatre was not an entirely uncomplicated business in London in the late 16th imagescentury, even though it has to be said that it during the Elizabethan era both experienced a heyday as well as produced playwrights the like of which we may never see again, not least William Shakespeare, but also Ben Johnson who maybe could be described as the second name of the era, and last but absolutely not least, even if during a much shorter period; Christopher Marlowe.

Acting and entertainment of course exited in England, and London, long before the end of the 1500´s, not least masques had for a long time been popular as well as religious mystery plays as well as other dramatized performances which were presented by smaller travelling theatre groups. Plays and stories about Robin Hood was popular, but less than appreciated by the men in power, not least for their symbolic value- But Robin Hood was not the only “threat” against the power, times were hard and when Elizabeth and her lords feared the gathering of people that a play could gather also could form into a rebellion, it wasn´t completely unfounded.

Another cause for concern were the recurring epidemic of the plague which meant that travelling theatre groups were forbidden in 1574 and when all theatres was closed almost continuously between 1592 and 1594, it was due to an outbreak of the Bubonic plague.

1400x1400_697333To attend a play during this period would have been quite different from today, when it’s more or less implied that the individual should feel deeply ashamed, should he or she happen to sneeze. Theatre in the days of Shakespeare was big, it was loud, there were laughing and there were booing, and at times things were thrown at the actors. As a playwright it was also quite possible to end up behind bars for something you wrote, a fact Ben Johnson knew all about.

The plays were written during a time when the ability of the masses to read were poor, and it was for those masses the plays were produced, even if the nobility too discovered the theatre companies and were patrons of several. In spite of the harsh times, there was love between the Londoners and the theatres which in several cases could house an audience of 3 000, and sold every last ticket, something modern theatres often can only dream about.

At the time, there was no particular costume designers, no stage workers, the thingsMarlowe-Portrait-1585 that needed to be done the actors had to do themselves, from sewing to carpentry, About six different plays were played every week with little time for rehearsal, and primarily during the afternoons as it later in the evenings would be too dark for anyone to see anything.

One of the most prominent theatre companies was The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, for which Shakespeare wrote most of his plays, with mainly Richard Burbage in the leading roles. It was founded in 1594 and enjoyed the patronage of Henry Carey, at the time Lord Chamberlain of England. He was also in charge of court entertainments. The patronage as well as the title as Lord Chamberlain would in time pass on to his son George Carey. When James I ascended to the throne in 1603, the company´s name was changed to “The King´s Men”.

The second most prominent company was the Admiral´s Men, whose patron was Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham. At first they were known as Lord Howard´s Men, but when he was appointed Lord High Admiral the company changed its name, something which happened again in 1603 when they became Prince Henry´s Men.

In 1640´s all the play houses were shut down by the Puritans.

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 Sources:

Shakespearean Playhouses – J.Q Adams

The Shakespeare Stage – Andrew Gurr

London, the illustrated history – Cathy Ross & John Clark

A Shakespeare Companion – Andrew Gurr

Images: Wikimedia

The Red Lion

The Red Lion som byggdes 1567 var belägen i Whitechapel, som i dagens London ingår i stadsdelen Tower Hamlets. Den byggdes av den tidigare grosshandlaren John Brayn och var tänkt att erbjuda en spelplats för Tudorerans många turnerande teatergrupper. The Red Lion uppfördes på en tidigare bondgård och bestod av en 12,2 meter x 9, 1 meter stor scen vilken var belägen cirka 1,5 meter över publiken. Scenen var utrustad med falluckor och flygande torn för sceneffekter. Men medan Whitechapel idag är en en myllrande stadsdel så var området på 1500-talet en del av landsbygden, och varken teatergrupperna eller publiken tyckte i längden att teatern hade något som inte redan kunde erbjudas av de värdshus där teaterstycken redan framfördes, och The Red Lion lades ned redan 1568. Den enda pjäs man med säkerhet vet framfördes där var ”The Story of Samson”. Idag vet man inte med säkerhet var teatern låg.

John Brayn var dock svärfar till James Burbage, impressario och skådespelare och tillsammans uppförde de 1576 utomhusteatern ”The Theatre” i Shoreditch, beläget i dagens Hackney i östra London. James Burbage har gått till historien som den som var bron mellan den medeltida teatertraditionen och den storslagna Elizabetanska teaterscenen. Hans son Richard Burbage kom också att bli en av sin tids största teaterskådespelare.

 

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James Burbage

The Curtain

ShakespeareanTheater-1The Curtain var den teater som 1577 gjorde The Theatre sällskap i Shoreditch. Här spelade mellan 1596 och 1598 Shakespeare och The Lord Chamberlain´s Men och här uppfördes bland andra Romeo och Julia samt Henry V. 1598 uppförde truppen ”Every Man In His Humour” av Ben Johnson på The Curtains scen med William Shakespeare i en av rollerna.

Som nutida kuriosa kan nämnas att det är på ”The Curtain” teaterscenerna i ”Shakespeare In Love” från 1998 ska utspela sig. Verksamheten på The Curtain upphörde av oklar anledning 1622, och idag finns en minnestavla över teatern på 18 Hewitt Street, en tvärgata till Curtain Road.

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I juni 2012 meddelade arkeologer från Museum of London att man funnit lämningar efter teatern, vilka ska finnas till beskådan för allmänheten när arbetet är klart. 2013 lämnades förslag in om att bygga en 40 våningar hög byggnad med 400 lägenheter på platsen. Det är också tänkt att inrymma ett Shakespearemuseum, ett utomhusauditorium med 250 platser och en park med de arkeologiska lämningarna synliga i en glasbyggnad.

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The Rose

Den första teater som byggdes på Bankside, Southwark, var The Rose som byggdes 1587The Rose precis utanför City of London. Upphovsmän till teatern var Philip Henslow och ytterligare en grosshandlare, John Cholmley. Det var på The Rose som en pjäs av Shakespeare uppfördes allra första gången. The Rose var en 14-sidig polygon byggnad med halmtak. The Rose var i huvudsak hemmascen för ”The Admiral´s Men” men huserade också under en period ”The Lord Chamberlain´s Men”.

The Rose verkar ha skilt sig från andra teatrar så till vida att man kunde tillhandahålla scener i två plan, och det tycks från samtida källor som att ett större antal pjäser där detta fodrades framfördes på just The Rose, som till exempel Titus Andronicus samt Romeo och Julia, för balkongscenen i denna pjäs.

När ”The Lord Chamberlain´s Men” 1599 uppförde ”The Globe” på vid Bankside började svåra tider för The Rose, inte minst för att det 1600 kom ett dekret från drottning Elizabeths rådgivande församling som endast tillät två teatrar i London; The Globe och The Fortune strax utanför Shoreditch. The Rose levde kvar i ett par år till som fungerande teater, men tycks ha rivits så tidigt som 1608.

1989 var The Rose, eller rättare sagt, det som fanns kvar av teatern, åter under hot. Detta bestod i planerade byggnader på platsen för teatern vilket skulle ha förstört de lämningar som fanns kvar. Flera av Englands absoluta toppskådespelare engagerade sig för The Rose, där ibland Sir Laurence Olivier och resultatet blev att nybyggnationen på ett kreativt sätt skedde runt den gamla teaterns kvarlevor med ett slutresultat som kallats ”en av de knäppaste synerna i London”. En blå minnesplatta finns över The Rose på 56 Park Street.

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1999 återöppnades utgrävningsplatsen för allmänheten under den nya byggnaden, och teaterns grund är ständigt täckt av ett par centimeter vatten för att det golv, som visat sig bestå av hasselnötsskal nedstampade i jord inte ska spricka.

Sedan 2007 framförs återigen pjäser i lämningarna av The Rose, många av dem samtida med teaterns storhetsperiod, men även nutida drama.

The Swan

The Swan was built in 1595 in The Manor of Paris Gardens in Southwark onThe_Swan_cropped the remains of what once was Bermondsey Abbey, and was at one point praised as the largest, most impressive amfie-theatre of the time. The Swan could house an audience of 3 000 and was built with a contemporary form of concrete with the tree frames that was typical of the Tudor era.

The theatre became the primary stage of Pembroke´s Men, a troop of actors that functioned under the patronage of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. It is believed by some that William Shakespeare in the early 1590´s functioned as both actor and writer for the company.

In 1597 they staged the satirical” Isle of Dogs” by Ben Johnson and Thomas Nashe. No copies of the play remains, and therefore it´s difficult to know exactly what offended the Privy Council, but whatever it was, it led to the arrest of Ben Johnson as well as the actors Gabriel Spenser and Robert Shaa. The home of Thomas Nash was raided, but as he was away at the time, he escaped imprisonment.

The Swan seem to have had a particular ability to aggravate both those in power as well as the general audience both for the plays that was performed and those that wasn´t. When a play in the honor of Elizabeth I had been announced and sold out only to never be staged, the theatre was vandalized to the point where it never fully recovered. The theatre was abandoned during a number of years after 1615 to be only temporarily in use in 1621. The theatre was thereafter allowed to decay and is not mentioned in any sources after 1632. In that year it was described as a dying swan singing her own dirge.

Sources:

A Shakespeare Companion – F.E Halliday

The Elizabethan Stage – E.K. Chambers

 

The Globe

The Globe is the one theatre that has come to be most associated with William the-globe-stichShakespeare. It was built in 1599, with among other material, beams from The Theatre on land belonging to Thomas Brend.

The building itself would however come to belong to the company The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, with an part ownership which meant that Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert had 25 per cent each while Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Philips and Thomas Pope owned 12,5 per cent each.

Even though it´s been known that the theatre was situated on Bankside and contemporary blue prints existed, it wasn´t until 1989 the exact location became known as parts of the foundations was found below a car park in proximity of Anchor Terrace. These parts are marked out above ground today, but as the major parts of the remains of the old theatre are below a listed house of historical significance, no further excavations have been permitted.

Because of this the exact dimensions of The Globe isn´t known, but from the findings that has been made, it´s estimated that the original building was a three stories high amphitheatre with room for 3 000 seated spectators and an unknown number of standing audience.

While drawings from the late 17th century implies that the building was round, the excavations that has been made gives at hand that it was a question of a polygon building with 20 sides.

Just as The Rose, The Globe seems to have had a dirt floor with nutshells stomped down in it to create a smooth surface that stayed ”in place”. A roof, which was held up by two pillars, covered the rear of the stage and its inside painted to resemble a cloudy sky, fittingly called ”The Heavens”. In the roof there was also a trap door, which made it possible for the actors to lower themselves down on the stage, using a rope and harness.

The_Swan_croppedAround the open yard three balconies rose, to which the tickets would have been more expensive than the standing spots around the stage itself. The stage would have been 5 meters high, 13,1 meters wide and 8,2 meters deep. Here another trap door made it possible for the actors to emerge on stage from below.

There exist no information as to which play would have been the very first to have been performed at The Globe, but it may have been Henry V during the summer of 1599 or Julius Caesar in September that same year. The first play, which is properly documented, to have been performed at The Globe is Every Man Out of His Humour by Ben Johnson towards the end of that same year.

The Globe burned to the ground on June 29th 1613, three years before William Shakespeare passed away. The cause was a theatre cannon fired wrongly during a performance of Henry VIII, which set fire to the thatched roof and wooded beams of the theatre. According to the few documents that exist, no one was injured even though man´s trousers caught fire and had to be put out with beer. The theatre was rebuilt during 1614, somewhat grander than the first construction and equipped with a tile roof.

Like all London theatres, The Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642 and demolished two years later, allegedly to give space for housing.

In 1997 The Globe rose from the proverbial ashes 230 metres from its original location, now with the name ”Shakespeare’s The Globe”. The reason for the slight 98_fullchange in location was that an approach to the Southwark Bridge was simply in the was.

The building bears as much resemblance to the original theatre that has been possible to achieve from estimations of descriptions remaining from 1599 and 1614. The first play staged at the new Globe was Henry V.

The stage and seating’s are constructed in the same way as in the original theatre, with the difference is that today´s Globe only has 857 seating’s and an additional 700 places for a standing audience, changes that are adaptions both to modern safety rules and the fact that modern day individuals are believed to be somewhat bigger than they would have been in Elizabethan times. Estimates has been made that the average seat was only 15.24 centimeters deep with a width of 45 centimeters and only around 30 centimeters leg space, which may have been a bit tough on modern day spectators.

Something, which would not have been found in the days of William Shakespeare and The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, is a visitor’s centre – a result of the American actor/director/producer Sam Wanamaker´s long ambition to create a Shakespeare museum, a project which was already on the way when the idea to re-create The Globe was born – , a gift shop and a restaurant.

No steel has been used in the construction of The Globe, and the building is the first one in London to have been allowed to have a thatched roof since the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Copies of  The Globe can be seen in Argentina, Italy, Germany, Japan and USA.

Sources:

London, the illustrated history – Museum of London, Simon Hall, John Clark, Cathy Ross.

Reconstructing Shakespeare´s Globe – John Orrell, University of Alberta

The 1599 Globe and its modern replica: Virtual Reality modelling of the archaeological and pictorial evidence – Gabriel Egan; Kings College and Shakespeare´s The Globe London

Images: Wikimedia Commons