Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

Elizabethan Amphitheatre

Picture of the Elizabethan Swan Amphitheatre

Picture of the Elizabethan Swan Amphitheatre

Elizabethan Amphitheatre
James Burbage built the first Elizabethan amphitheatre in 1576 following the huge success of the plays performed in Inn-yards. The Theatre was built in a similar style, but on a smaller scale, to the Roman Amphitheatres. James Burbage was keen to cash in on the profits made by the plays being performed in Elizabethan England.

The biggest of the Inn-yards had a maximum capacity of 500 people the Elizabethan amphitheatre was designed to hold a capacity of up to 3000 people. Similar amphitheatres were later built to house blood sports, such as bear beating at the 'Bear Garden' and Bull Beating at the 'Bull Ring'. These massive places of entertainment would have proved daunting prospects for their builders. The plans of James Burbage and his idea of constructing an amphitheatre were highly ambitious. He had his skills of a carpenter to help him but expert help was clearly required. He knew just the man - Dr. John Dee.

Dr John Dee - Architect of the first Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The notorious Dr. Dee was a highly influential Elizabethan. A powerful courtier, he was renowned as a magician and alchemist. A highly educated Elizabethan he was also extremely knowledgeable about architecture and the history of the Romans and, no doubt, Greek theatre. James Burbage relied on Dr. John Dee's help and the use of his extensive architectural library to design the plans for the construction of 'The Theatre'. Dr. John Dee can therefore be named as the Architect of the Elizabethan amphitheatre.

Building an Elizabethan Amphitheatre - Speed was the essence.
Building the Amphitheaters was about profit. The design of the London Amphitheaters, were guaranteed to house as many playgoers as was possible in a cheap, but impressive, looking building. They were built with timber, stone (flint) and plaster. An Elizabethan amphitheatre took about six months to build. The profit margin of the fixed venue theatres increased more than five-fold with increased audience capacity. Profit also increased as the acting troupes no longer had to spend their time travelling, erecting and dismantling stages and all of the associated expenses which would have been incurred with the inn-yards and paying the inn-keepers.

The Elizabethan Amphitheatre - 'Legitimising' the Elizabethan Theatre
James Burbage wanted to enhance the tarnished reputation of the Elizabethan theatre and its actors. Dr. John Dee clearly helped him to achieve this goal. Building The Theatre in the style of the ancient amphitheatre provided the opportunity to draw strong comparisons with the classical Greek theater thus providing a means to 'legitimise' the Elizabethan theatre. The Roman Amphitheater design was therefore perceived as an excellent idea. Not only did this make perfect financial sense but it also linked the Elizabethan theater of the Renaissance period with the much admired classical theater and literature of the Greeks and Romans. The Elizabethan playwrights, such as Christopher Marlowe, continued this theme by producing Tragedies and Comedies of a similar genre. William Shakespeare himself drew on the history of the ancients in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The huge popularity of the Roman Amphitheater was about to be repeated many hundreds of years later in Renaissance England.

Elizabethan Amphitheatre Interiors
The picture at the top of the page depicts the Swan theatre and was sketched by Johannes de Witt, a Dutch traveller. Johannes de Witt visited the Swan on his travels to England and the sketch is dated between 1596-1598. The picture was accompanied by some notes which are probably the single most important source of our information and facts about the internal layout of a London amphitheatre. The information consisted of a diary note together with a sketch of the internal layout of the Swan Theatre. All of the London Elizabethan amphitheatres were similar in design, so the picture of the Swan can be used a good guide to the structure and layout of the old Globe Theatre and other Elizabethan amphitheatres.

Elizabethan Amphitheatres in London
The Elizabethan amphitheatres which entertained the people in London included The Theatre, Newington Butts, the Curtain, the Rose, the Swan, the Fortune, The Boars Head, the Red Bull, the Bear Garden, the Bull Ring, the Hope and, of course the Globe Theatre.

1576: The Theatre , Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London
1576: Newington Butts Elizabethan Theatre, Southwark, Surrey
1577: The Curtain Elizabethan Theatre , Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London
1587: The Rose Elizabethan Theatre, Bankside, Surrey
1595: The Swan Elizabethan Theatre , Paris Garden, Surrey (See Top Picture)
1599: The Globe , Bankside, Surrey
1600: The Fortune Elizabethan Theatre , Golding Lane, Clerkenwell
1600: The Boar's Head Elizabethan Theatre , Whitechapel, London
1604: The Red Bull Elizabethan Theatre , Clerkenwell
1576: The Bear Garden Elizabethan Theatre   Bankside, Surrey
1576: The Bull Ring   Bankside, Surrey
1614: The Hope Elizabethan Theatre   Bankside, Surrey
Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The history of the Elizabethan Amphitheatre clearly started with the construction of The Theatre in 1576 by the Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur James Burbage. For additional information about the Elizabethan Amphitheatres please click the following link Elizabethan Theatres The Classical Connections with the Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The classical theme of the Elizabethan amphitheatre continued and various sections within the interior of the amphitheatres were labelled with Latin names taken from the Roman theatre:
  • The ' Herculean ' pillars, strongly featured in the interiors designs of the Elizabethan amphitheaters, were painted so that they appeared to be made of marble
  • The Elizabethan stage wall was called the Frons Scenae and decorated with classical Greek and Roman images
So the innovative theatrical entrepreneurs who built the Elizabethan amphitheatres used classical Greek and Roman history to create a clever and specific image for their theatres.
Elizabethan Theatre
Elizabethan Era Index

Privacy Statement

Cookie Policy

2017 Siteseen Ltd