Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

The Theatre

Picture of a Theatre Stage

Picture of a Theatre Stage

The Theatre - The First Elizabethan Amphitheatre
James Burbage built the 'Theatre' in 1576 on land leased from a man called Giles Allen who was a staunch puritan. Giles Allen was not in favour of any theatrical activities on his land but this did not stop James Burbage from building his 'Theatre' on the site. When, in 1597, the lease finally expired Giles Allen refused to renew the lease.

A clause in their former lease allowed the actors who worked for Burbage to dismantle the building.Richard and Cuthbert Burbage with their troupe of actors and carpenters went to the Theatre at night and demolished the Theatre. They used the reclaimed timber in the construction of the Globe playhouse on Bankside, Southwark.

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

  • London Location of the Theatre - City of London

  • The Theatre was opened in 1576
  • The theatrical entrepreneur involved with the Theatre was James Burbage
  • The Theatre 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, styled on the open air Roman amphitheatres, as the new venues of Elizabethan plays. Quick to build, approximately 6 months, requiring only cheap building materials they increased profits for the theatre at least five-fold.

Description of The Theatre amphitheatre
The Theatre 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'. It 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 Theatre:

  • Audience capacity of an Elizabethan amphitheatre was between 1500 and 3000
  • 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. Some later theatres had external staircases to access the galleries 
  • 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
  • Toilet Facilities? None . People relieved themselves outside. Sewage was buried in pits or disposed of in the River Thames
  • Size of Elizabethan Theatre - Up to 100 feet in diameter
  • Shapes of the Elizabethan Theatres - Circular or Octagonal in shape having between 8 and 24 sides
  • 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 Theatre
The Theatre was used as a venue for Elizabethan plays, replacing the Inn-yard venues. The  purpose built Elizabethan Amphitheatres in London such as the Theatre were used during the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter. It was later moved to the South of London and rebuilt as the Globe theatre.

The Globe theatre
Elizabethan Theatre
Elizabethan Era Index

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