The Theatre

The Theatre was the second permanent

playhouse built in London (the Red Lion,

which preceded it, only stage one

performance before closing) and the first to

succeed as a performance venue for stage

plays. Although Newington Butts Theatre is

thought to have preceded it by as much as a

year, Newington Butts is thought to have

adapted another structure, perhaps a barn, as a theater rather than built specifically as one. The design mimicked inn-yards of the day, which were used for other public entertainment, and was built in a polygon shape at a cost thought to be £700, very expensive at the time.

The theater yard included a standing room pit which cost a penny to enter and other galleries surrounded the pit and cost a penny more to stand in, or for which a stool could be had for yet another penny. Further up, compartments to hold the upper classes and aristocrats overlooked the stage.

Actor-manager James Burbage built The Theatre in 1576 in partnership with John Brayne (owner of the Red Lion) in Shoreditch on Curtain Road near his family home. The playhouse was home to Leicester’s Men, and later on, the Admiral’s Men and Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which included William Shakespeare, engaged there as an actor and playwright. Some of Shakespeare’s earliest plays debuted at The Theatre

When a disagreement with the landlord erupted, the theater building was dismantled in the middle of the night on December 28, 1598 and the lumber stored nearby until it was used to construct the original Globe Theatre nearby on Bankside.

The Curtain Theatre

Featured in the 1998 film, Shakespeare in Love, and one of oldest Elizabethan playhouses, built in 1577, the Curtain Theatre draws its name from its location in Curtain Close, Shoreditch, just outside the London city limits and offered performances until 1622. The Curtain was roughly 200 yards from The Theatre, which had opened a year earlier. A plaque at 18 Hewett Street, near Curtain Road, marks its location.

As with all the other London theaters of the time, the Curtain remained shuttered from 1592 to 1594 to help stem the spread of the Bubonic (or black) plague.

Henry Lanman is thought to have been the proprietor, having contracted with James Burbage, who also was a part owner of The Theatre (until 1592), for his company, although its name is lost in history. When The Theatre closed in 1596, the Curtain became the home of Shakespeare’s theatrical company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, from 1597 to 1599. Performances here are known to include Romeo and Juliet and Henry V, and Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, in which Shakespeare performed. Lord Chamberlain’s Men moved to the Globe, the theater they built for themselves, in 1599. The Curtain was likely a private enterprise since records of its shareholders, including Edmund Chambers, Thomas Pope (a member of Lord Chamberlain’s Men), and John Underwood (a member of the King’s Men), indicate they were left to their heirs as part of the inheritance estate.

The Queen Anne’s Men players made their home at the Curtain beginning in 1603. Among their productions was The Travels of the Three English Brothers in 1607.

It remains unknown what caused the Curtain to close in 1622 and no records mention the theater after 1627.

The Rose Theatre

Theatrical producer Philip Henslowe and grocer John Cholmley partnered to build the Rose Theatre in 1587. It drew its name from a small parcel of land, the Little Rose, leased from St. Mildred parish in 1585. The theater was a 14-sided polygon about 72 feet in diameter with a lath and plaster exterior and thatch roof.  

While the city archives indicate the building was used from 1587 onward, Henslowe does not mention it in his records until 1592 indicating he may have leased it to an acting troupe with which he was not affiliated. In 1592, a group consisting of members of Lord Strange’s Men and the Admiral’s Men took up residence at The Rose. Their success apparently motivated Henslowe to enlarge the theater to accommodate an additional 500 audience members. Since Henslowe paid all the construction costs himself, it is believe Cholmley was no longer a shareholder, having been bought out or passed away.

After the scourge of the plague subsided in 1594, the Admiral’s Men again took up residence at the Rose.

The Rose is thought to have had a substantial upper deck stage enabling larger groups of actors to assemble there since a disproportionate number of plays requiring such staging were produced there.

When London’s Privy Council ruled in 1600 that only two theaters would be permitted for stageproductions, the Globe and the Fortune, both in  Shoreditch, the Rose’s days were numbered. It was used by Worcester’s Men in 1602 and 1603 but was abandoned when the lease expired in 1605.

Portions of the Rose remained to modern times. When development threatened to demolish those, a campaign to save the remaining structure, led by Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier, petitioned to preserve the site. Eventually the new development was built over and around the remainder of the Rose as a compromise.

A replica of the Rose was built for the set of the 1998 film, Shakespeare in Love, and was subsequently donated to the British Shakespeare Company by Dame Judi Dench. A renovated theater space was built on the site of the original Rose and has been used for performances since 2007.


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