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Boars Head Elizabethan Theatre

Picture of the Boars Head Sign

Picture of the Boars Head Sign

The Boar's Head Theatre - Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The Boar's Head Theatre started life as a London Inn in the possession of a widow called Mrs. Poley. The popularity, and profit to be made from playgoers, saw the Boar's Head used as an Inn-yard from 1557. The Boar's Head Theatre was located in Whitechapel, London.

In 1595 Mrs. Poley leased the Boar's Head to Oliver Woodliffe in 1595 on condition that he spent 100 over a seven year period on converting the Boar's Head Inn into an Amphitheatre with the addition of expanded covered galleries, a tiring-house and a half covered stage. The renovation work was duly completed in 1599 and once a licence had been obtained Worcester's men were contracted to play there. Oliver Woodliffe's over extended his theatrical ambitions and encountered problems with another group of players who it would seem he had also made arrangements with. Worcester's men found it impossible to stay there and after a very short period of time they moved into to the Rose Theatre at Bankside which had recently been vacated by the Admiral's men (they had moved into the newly built Fortune playhouse). Oliver Woodliffe of the Boar's Head took legal action against Worcester's men  for breaching their contact with him and this took some six months to resolve.

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

  • London Location of the Boars Head - Whitechapel
  • The Boars Head was opened as an Inn-yard in 1557
  • The Inn was originally owned by a widow called Mrs. Poley
  • The theatrical entrepreneur involved with the Boars Head was Oliver Woodliffe
  • The Inn-yard was converted to an ampitheatre in 1599
  • The Boars Head was one of the 12 massive amphitheatres, including the Globe Theatre, which were built around the City of London

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 Boars Head. It was styled on the open air Roman amphitheatres providing a classical connection and an air of respectability to the Theatrical profession. The Boars Head 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 Boars Head 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 Boars Head 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 Boars Head:

  • 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 owners of the theatre were called the 'Housekeepers'
  • There was no heating in the Elizabethan Theatre. Plays were performed in the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter
  • 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
  • Only very rich women, who often wore masks, or women of dubious morals attended the amphitheatres
  • 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
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