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Blackfriars Playhouse

Picture of Blackfriars Playhouse

Picture of Blackfriars Playhouse

Blackfriars Playhouse - originally a Dominican Monastery
The Blackfriars Playhouse Theatre was located in the City of London on the site of a dissolved 13th-century Dominican monastery. The original Dominican monastery was built in 1275 and was located between the River Thames and Ludgate Hill.

  • Originally a Dominican Monastery

  • Named after the black habits of the Dominican monks or friars

  • Originally used by a Children's company and then by William Shakespeare's company

The monastery and its lands were massive and stretched from Shoe Lane off Fleet Street right down to the Thames at Puddle Dock. The monastery estates came to be commonly known as "Blackfriars" due to the black robes worn by the Dominican monks or friars.

After the Dissolution of the Monastries by King Henry VIII the building of Blackfriars became extremely important. It served as a general meeting place which hosted many Parliaments and provided a venue for the Privy Council. The Blackfriars building was the location of many historic events, such as the 1529 divorce hearing of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and King Henry VIII (1491-1547).

The First Blackfriars Theatre
In 1538 the Dominican monastery of Blackfriars was closed due to the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. The monastery estates, which consisted of many different buildings on a vast area of land, were divided up and sold or leased. In 1576, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, some of the buildings were leased to Richard Farrant who was Master of the boy choristers called the Children of the Chapel Royal.During the Elizabethan era the young boy members of the choirs were also encouraged to participate in drama. These troupes were called Children's companies. These children doubled as child actors and the buildings were used for play rehearsals and private performances prior to the 'Chapel Children' acting troupe performing at court. This was, therefore, the first Blackfriars theatre. The whole district retained the name and when the old refectory was turned into the theatre, the name was used to define its location. Plays were staged there until 1584 when the first 'Blackfriars Theatre' was closed due to various objections from City officials.

The Blackfriars Theatre - The Elizabethan Playhouse
In February, 1596, the theatrical entrepreneur James Burbage, already having difficulty with the landlord of the Theatre, purchased Blackfriars from the executors of Sir Thomas Cawarden estate for £600. Sir Thomas Cawarden was the previous owner. The buildings of Blackfriars, were in the old precinct of the Dominican monks or “Blackfriars preachers”, and had formed part of their monastery. The freehold purchased by Burbage was for a "collection of rooms, large and small,  cellars and yards and including seven great upper rooms”, which had formerly been one great room. Burbage converted these rooms into an indoor or “private” playhouse.  Although under the control of the crown, and not the city officials, who were staunchly against the theatre, the Chamberlain's men were unable to use Blackfriars Playhouse Theatre as their winter venue due to the local residents determined protests. Shakespeare and the Blackfriars Theatre - The Elizabethan Playhouse
In 1600, Richard Burbage leased the Blackfriars to Henry Evans for 21 years for £40 per annum, but  in August 1608, Richard Burbage took back the lease from Evans, and William Shakespeare and other King's men players became part owners of what was to become the Blackfriars Playhouse. William Shakespeare bought a house a short walk away from Blackfriars theatre in Ireland Yard. The acting troupe performed at Blackfriars during the winter months while continuing to spend the summers at the Globe. In 1619 the local residents again tried to close the theatre but due failed due to the intervention of the Privy Council.

The Closure of the Blackfriars Playhouse
The King’s Men continued to use Blackfriars, without interruption, until 1642 when, as with the majority of theatres, it was closed by the Puritans during the English Civil War. The Blackfriars playhouse fell into disrepair, and was demolished on the 6th of August, 1655. The site is still commemorated by Playhouse Yard, close to Apothecaries' Hall.

The Blackfriars Playhouse Indoor Elizabethan Playhouse Theatre
The known facts about the Blackfriars Playhouse indoor Playhouse, which was used as one of the venues for English Elizabethan Theatre, are as follows:

  • London Location of the Blackfriars Playhouse indoor Playhouse - Ludgate Hill

  • The Blackfriars Playhouse indoor Playhouse was opened in - 1576

  • The famous people associated with the Blackfriars Playhouse indoor Playhouse were Richard Farrant, William Shakespeare and the Burbage family

Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Playhouses
The following interesting facts about the Elizabethan indoor playhouses, such as Blackfriars Playhouse, provide an insight into the development of the modern theatre:

  • Elizabethan playhouses, such as Blackfriars Playhouse, provided indoor venues for the production of Elizabethan plays

  • The venues were smaller and roofed

  • Suitable for winter and evening productions

  • Admittance to the Playhouses were more expensive than the other types of Elizabethan theatres

  • Attending a public theater performance would cost between 1 to 3 pennies, but admission to a private, indoor, theatre cost between 2 to 26 pennies

  • Indoor Playhouses were no so much private but exclusive - the cost prohibited the attendance of most common folk

  • Everyone in the private theatre audience was given a seat - the higher the price of admission, the more comfortable the seat was

  • The Audience capacity was up to 500 people

  • The Playhouses were more comfortable and luxurious than other theatres

  • The Great Halls in existing, prestigious, buildings were used as playhouses and venues for plays

  • The indoor Playhouses were lighted by candles so performances could be staged in the evening

  • The use of candles led to the introduction of intervals when burnt down candles were replaced

  • Food and drink was served, or sold, during the intervals

  • Music and songs was strongly featured - the acoustics of indoor theatres, such as Blackfriars Playhouse Playhouse, lent themselves to this effect

  • Beautiful scenery were introduced - as this was not open to the open air elements this could be re-used over and over again

  • Costumes tended to be quite sumptuous

  • The plays were selected to suit the indoor venues - the emphasis was on the words of the play rather than noisy special effects

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