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Red Bull Elizabethan Theatre

Picture of a Shakespeare Play

Picture of a Shakespeare Play

The Red Bull Theatre - Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The Red Bull Theatre started life as a London Inn in the possession of a widow called Mrs. Susan Baskerville. The popularity, and profit to be made from playgoers, saw the Red Bull used as an Inn-yard from c1557. The Red Bull was located in Upper Street, Clerkenwell, London.

Clerkenweel had been the venue for the production of much earlier plays. London Parish Clerks, in the early years of their corporate existence, included the performance of "Holy Plays" as one of their activities.John Stow was an historian who recorded that in 1390 and 1409 , the clerks assembled at a place, now known as Clerkenwell, "to play some history of Holy Scripture". In 1604 the Red Bull was leased to Aaron Holland who converted the Inn-yard into an ampitheatre.

The reputation of the Red Bull was the worst of all of the amphitheatres with frequent brawls and rowdyness. Several members of the Red Bull audience were called before Middlesex justices in 1610, charged with committing a "notable outrage" at the theatre. The first acting troupe to play at the Red Bull were the Queen Anne's Men, formally called Worcester's men, who had been at the Rose Theatre since early 1600. The Queens Men occupied it up until 1617, when they took up residence at the Cockpit Theatrein Drury Lane. In 1625 the Red Bull was further renovated and modified. The Red Bull theater was closed to acting troupes and play acting during the Puritan era but it reopened during the Restoration when Thomas Killigrew's company played there. By 1663 the Red Bull theater was  in disuse and was demolished in 1665.

The Red Bull Amphitheatre - Elizabethan Theatre
The known facts about the Red Bull, which was used as one of the massive amphitheatre venues for early English Elizabethan Theatre, are as follows:

  • London Location of the Red Bull - Clerkenwell
  • Used as a venue for plays as an inn-yard from c1557
  • The Red Bull was opened as an amphitheatre in 1604
  • The theatrical entrepreneur involved with the Red Bull was Aaron Holland
  • The Red Bull was one of the 12 amphitheatres, including the Globe Theatre, which were built around the City of London
  • The Red Bull Theatre, is now marked by Red Bull Yard, St. John's Street Row

In 1574 the City of London started regulating the Inn-yard activities.  The Theatrical entrepreneurs fought back and started to build purpose built wooden theatres such as the Red Bull. It was styled on the open air Roman amphitheatres providing a classical connection and an air of respectability to the Theatrical profession. The Red Bull was extremely quick to build, approximately 6 months, requiring only cheap building materials it therefore increased profits for the theatre at least five-fold.

Description of The Theatre amphitheatre
The Red Bull was described as an Elizabethan Amphitheatre which was octagonal or circular in shape having between 8 and 24 sides. The open air arena of the amphitheatre was called the 'pit' or the 'yard'. The stage of the amphitheatre projected halfway into the 'pit'. The Red Bull had a raised stage at one end which was surrounded by three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies overlooking the back of the stage.

Facts and Information about the Amphitheatre styled Elizabethan Theatres
Interesting general facts and information about the amphitheatre venue such as the Red Bull:

  • Building materials used in the construction of early Elizabethan Theatres were timber, nails, stone (flint), plaster with thatched roofs
  • The 'Box ' and the 'Box Office' - Playgoers put 1 penny in a box at the Elizabethan theatre entrance. At the start of the play the admission collectors put the boxes in a room backstage called the box office.
  • The Entrance to the theatre - Usually one main entrance
  • The owners of the theatre were called the 'Housekeepers'
  • Lighting in the Elizabethan Theatre - Natural lighting as plays were produced in the afternoon. However there was some artificial lighting mainly intended to provide atmosphere for night scenes
  • The height of the raised stage was 3 to 5 feet and supported by large pillars or trestles
  • Stage dimensions varied from 20 foot wide 15 foot deep to 45 feet to 30 feet
  • Only very rich women, who often wore masks, or women of dubious morals attended the amphitheatres
  • Musicians - Music was an extra effect added in the 1600's
  • A selection of ropes & rigging would allow for special effects, such as flying or dramatic entries
  • The floor of the Stage was made of wood, sometimes covered with rushes. Trap doors in the floor would enable some additional special effects such as smoke

The Red Bull
The Red Bull was used as a venue for Elizabethan plays, replacing the Inn-yard venues. The  purpose built Elizabethan Amphitheatres in London such as the Red Bull were used during the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter.

  • The height of the raised stage was 3 to 5 feet and supported by large pillars or trestles
  • Stage dimensions varied from 20 foot wide 15 foot deep to 45 feet to 30 feet
  • Only very rich women, who often wore masks, or women of dubious morals attended the amphitheatres
  • Musicians - Music was an extra effect added in the 1600's
  • A selection of ropes & rigging would allow for special effects, such as flying or dramatic entries
  • The floor of the Stage was made of wood, sometimes covered with rushes. Trap doors in the floor would enable some additional special effects such as smoke

The Red Bull
The Red Bull was used as a venue for Elizabethan plays, replacing the Inn-yard venues. The  purpose built Elizabethan Amphitheatres in London such as the Red Bull were used during the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter.

Elizabethan Theatre
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