Last week we had a look at two former theatres in Shoreditch which had strong associations to William Shakespeare and in previous weeks we’ve talked about both The Globe and Blackfriars Playhouse. So this week we thought we’d wrap up our look at Elizabethan theatres with a brief glance at a couple of other theatrical establishments which may have had some association with The Bard…
• The Rose. Built by Philip Henslowe in 1587, the theatre is located close to where The Globe later stood in Bankside. Many companies performed here – including Lord Strange’s Men in 1592 when, according to some, Shakespeare may have been the actors in the company. The theatre’s remains are open to the public. For more on The Rose, you can see our earlier Lost London entry.
• The Swan. Built by Francis Langley in the mid 1590s in the Paris Gardens area in the west of Bankside, The Swan was the most impressive of London’s theatres when first constructed due to both its size – it’s believed to have held an audience as big as 3,000 people – and the manner of its construction. It’s a matter of debate whether the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – the acting troupe Shakespeare was a part of – ever performed here while waiting for the Globe to be built. By the early 1630s, the theatre had apparently fallen into disrepair.
• Newington Butts. In use from 1580, this theatre was located in Surrey (the name is now preserved in that of the street still known as Newington Butts just to the south of the Elephant & Castle roundabout). Little is known about the theatre but it’s believed the Lord Chamberlain’s Men played here in the mid 1590s and apparently gave their earliest known performances of a number of Shakespeare’s plays including Titus Andronicus and The Taming of the Shrew took place. Butts were typically used in the national sport of archery but that may not apparently be the explanation behind the name here which may instead refer to an odd-shaped area of land.
For more on Elizabethan theatre, check out Elizabethan-Jacobean Drama: The Theatre in its Time.
First opened in 1587, The Rose was one of the first purpose-built theatres in London and the first Elizabethan theatre in Bankside, then an area noted for its entertainments including gambling dens, bear and bull baiting pits, and brothels.
The theatre was built for businessman and theatre developer, Philip Henslowe, and his partner John Cholmley, and subsequently hosted plays including Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s Henry VI part I and Titus Andronicus. Among the actors was Edward Alleyn, Henslowe’s son-in-law, while among the companies which performed there were Lord Strange’s Men, Sussex’s Men, the Queen’s Men and the Admiral’s Men.
Its success led to the building of rival theatres in the area including The Swan in 1595 and The Globe in 1599. It had apparently fallen out of use by 1603 and was abandoned soon after.
The theatre fell out of history until the late 1980s when, following the demolition of a 1950s office block, archaeologists from the Museum of London uncovered the remains of much of the theatre’s floorplan, revealing that it was a smallish many sided structure based on a 14-sided polyhedron. A campaign to save the remains was launched – attracting support from acting luminaries including Sir Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft – and much of the site was preserved from development.
Some 700 objects, including jewellery, coins and a fragment of one of the moneyboxes used to collect entrance money, were excavated at the site.
The site was reopened to the public in 1999 – it now features displays and some of the objects found by archaeologists – and part of it has been used as a performance space again since 2007.
WHERE: Rose Theatre, Park Street, Bankside; WHEN: 10am to 5pm Saturdays (Shakespeare’s Globe also offer tours during matinee performances at The Globe when tours there are not available – see www.shakespeares-globe.org for more details); COST: Free (donations welcomed and there is a charge for tours from The Globe); WEBSITE: www.rosetheatre.org.uk