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
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.
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
Elizabethan Amphitheatres in
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.