Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

The Cockpit

Picture of a Cockpit

Picture of a Cockpit

The Cockpit Playhouse Theatre The Cockpit Theatre - A Playhouse (later re-named the Phoenix Theatre)

As its name indicates, the Cockpit Theatre was originally built as a venue for cock fighting in 1609.  The blood sport venue was converted into a playhouse theatre in 1616 by Christopher Beeston.

 Christopher Beeston was a member of Queen Anne's Men and he had his own troupe called the Beeston's Boys. In 1617 there was some rioting in London and the newly converted theatre was burnt down by the mob. The Cockpit theater was rebuilt in 1618 and given the name the Phoenix Theatre, as, just like the mythical phoenix, it rose from the ashes. Habits die hard and the Phoenix Playhouse Theatre continued to be referred to as the Cockpit. Sir William Davenant became manager of the theater after the death of Christopher Beeston in 1638. Sir William Davenant was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of William Shakespeare. In 1642 an act of Parliament by the Puritans closed all theatres. The Cockpit, however, continued to illicitly stage shows, and in 1649 it was raided. In 1659 Sir William Davenant was granted special permission to present one of his operas at the theater called "Sir Francis Drake". In 1660 theatres were allowed to reopen, and John Rhodes became manager of The Cockpit. Competition from the nearby Drury Lane Theater, however, forced the playhouse to close in 1665.

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

  • London Location of the Cockpit Playhouse indoor Playhouse - Drury Lane
  • The Cockpit Playhouse indoor Playhouse was opened in 1609 as a venue for cockfighting
  • Converted into a theatre playhouse in 1616 by Christopher Beeston
  • The famous people associated with the Cockpit Playhouse indoor Playhouse were Sir William Davenant
  • The Cockpit Playhouse indoor Playhouse has a special place in the history of London as it became the very first theatre to be located in Drury Lane

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

  • Elizabethan playhouses, such as Cockpit 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 Cockpit 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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