London – The First Theatres – 1629

This article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery – it covers the history of London’s theatres from the 1100s through to the 1800s.

London – The First Theatres – 1629

When the first London theatre was built, or where it was actually situated, seems doubtful; but early in the reign of Elizabeth, the Curtain, the Red Bull, and the Globe theatres, were all flourishing. The love of the drama appears to have spread with singular rapidity; for Rymer, in his Fosdera, relates, that in the sixty years preceding [1629], no less than seventeen “common play houses” were built in and about London, “five inns or common osteries were turned to playhouses, one cockpit, St. Paul’s singing school, the Globe on the Bankside, the Fortune near Golden Lane, one in White Fryars, etc. besides the new built Bear-gardens, built as well for plays as fencers, bear and bull-baiting.”

Popular, however, as plays were, they appear to have yielded in royal estimation to bear-baiting; and there is an order of the privy council of Queen Elizabeth in 1591 extant, which prohibits plays been acted on Thursdays, because they “were a great hurt and destruction of the game of bear-baiting and like pastimes, which are maintained for her majesty’s pleasure” on those days. Among the early London theatres, the Globe is entitled to the first notice, on account of its connection with the great magician of the drama.

Pennant was so anxious to identify Shakespeare with the Globe Theatre, that in a map he has given, purporting to be a plan of London and Westminster in the year 1563, he has introduced the singular anachronism of “Shakespeare’s play-house,” although the immortal bard was not born until the following year; nor the Globe Theatre built on the site of an amphitheatre for bear-baiting in Bank side, Southwark, until the year 1596-8. It is a round building of wood, a circumstance which seems to be alluded to by Shakespeare in the play of Henry V.

“Can this cock-pit hold
The field of vasty France? or can we cram
Into this wooden O, the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?”

The house was very spacious, the partial roof was covered with rushes, but the area was open. On the turret or roof a silk flag, the usual emblem of places of amusement, was displayed; and in the front of the building was a painting, exhibiting Hercules supporting the globe, with the motto,; Totus mundus agit histrionem.

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

William Shakespeare on Wikipedia

The Globe Theatre on Wikipedia

Sholto and Rueben Percy