The Curtain Theatre – London – 1577

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Following a BBC news article on the discovery of the remains of the Curtain Theatre we had a ‘dig’ around in our library and unearthed the excerpt below; from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery.

The Curtain Theatre London – 1577

If the Globe was rendered memorable by Shakespeare’s connection with it, the Curtain Theatre near Shoreditch, the name of which is preserved in the Curtain-road, had a similar distinction, by its being the place where “rare Ben Jonson” acted, before he obtained celebrity as an author; yet the Curtain Theatre never appears to have flourished, although it had, as an actor, Dick Tarlton, one of the best comedians of the time of Elizabeth. Aubrey, who wrote in [1678], nearly a century after the theatre was probably erected, notices it as “a kind of nursery or obscure playhouse, called the ‘Green Curtain’ situate in the suburbs towards Shoreditch.” Although there is no positive evidence of the fact, it is by no means improbable conjecture, that the Curtain Theatre took its name from its being the first to adopt that necessary appendage of the stage.

The Red Bull, St. John’s Street, Clerkenwell, was another of our early theatres, where the poor players, when suppressed by the puritans, sometimes assembled, during Christmas and Bartholomew fair, on the summons of Alexander Goffe, the woman actor (for ladies had not been yet introduced on the stage), at Blackfriars. They were, however, frequently disturbed and imprisoned. The Red Bull appears to have been of an inferior rank to the Globe and Blackfriars theatres; for, in a poem addressed to Sir William D’Avenant, in 1633, it is described as that

“degenerate stage

Where none of the untun’d kennel can rehearse

A line of serious sense.”

In the reign of Charles I. there were six playhouses allowed in town, says old Downes, the prompter to Sir W. D’Avenant’s company, which he enumerates as “the Blackfriars company, his majesty’s servants; the Bull; one in Salisbury-court; another, called the Fortune; another, at the Globe; and a sixth, at the Cock-pit, Drury-lane; all of which continued acting till the beginning of the civil wars.

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Further reading and external links

BBC News article on the discovery of the remains of the Curtain Theatre