Some 400 years ago, Queen Elizabeth I was on the English throne and she reigned for a long period from 1558 to 1603 , 45 years in all. Shakespeare was born in 1564 and he died in 1616, so he was essentially an Elizabethan, though he survived the Queen by 13 years.

The City of London then was rather like a small town of today. The river dominated the scene and there was only one way to cross it : London Bridge.


The first theatres for Elizabethan drama were of two kinds : Inn-yards and Great Halls, and both influenced the later playhouses. However, the civic authorities of London were unhappy with playing in the streets and inn-yards of the city proper, but within two years they were already complaining about the "great multitudes of people" gathering out in the "liberties and suburbs" of the city, outside the city walls.


To these playhouses almost all classes of citizens, except the Puritans, came for afternoon entertainment. We now regard the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries as one of the supreme artistic achievements in literary history. Yet, in its own day it was viewed as a scandal and an outrage. In fact, in fact, players were defined as vagabonds--criminals subject to arrest and whipping.

But let's find out a bit more on such an exciting subject !!



(1) Wenceslaus Hollar's Long View of London 1647
The Guildhall Library, Corporation of London (U.K.)

(3) "Old Globe in Shakespeare's day," illustration by A. Forestier, Illustrated London News, 1910;


1. Locate the main Elizabethan theatres in the next map of London.

Have a look at the next website if you need some help :



2. Investigate in the next websites and answer the following questions.



1. Whereabout in London were the Theatres located ? Why ?

In the " Liberties ", outside the City walls and on the south bank of the river , called Southwark.Because the City Council ( guilds) together with the Puritans did not approve of the playhouses.

The liberties "belonged" to the city yet fell outside the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor, the sheriffs of London, and the Common Council. Therefore, they were areas over which the city had authority but, paradoxically, almost no control. Liberties existed inside the city walls as well--it was in them that the so-called private or hall playhouses were to be found--but they too stood "outside" the city's effective domain.

In 1575, when Shakespeare was only eleven, the City authorities imposed a Code of Practice upon the Players which so displeased them that they decided to withdraw outside the City boundaries. Thus it was that in the following year, 1576, the first custom-made London theatre, appropriately called 'The Theatre' was built in Finsbury Fields and the next year, 1577, The Curtain was built in the same area.

Theatre was viewed as a scandal and an outrage--a controversial phenomenon that religious and civic authorities strenuously sought to outlaw. In 1572, in fact, players were defined as vagabonds--criminals subject to arrest and whipping. Furthermore, "popular" drama, performed by professional acting companies for anyone who could afford the price of admission, was perceived as too vulgar in its appeal to be considered a form of art.

Yet the animus of civic and religious authorities was rarely directed toward other forms of popular recreation, such as bearbaiting or the sword-fighting displays that the populace could see in open-air amphitheatres similar in construction to The Theatre and the Globe. The city regularly singled out the playhouses and regularly petitioned the court for permission to shut them down--permission that was only granted temporarily, in times of plague, in part because Elizabeth I liked to see well-written and well-rehearsed plays at court during Christmas festivities but declined to pay for the development and maintenance of the requisite repertory companies herself.
Free or "at liberty" from manorial rule or obligations to the crown,

2. Name the most important theatres during Elizabethan times.

Fortune , Globe , Hope, Red Bull , Rose, Swan , Theatre & the
Whitefriars Theatre

3. Which was the first playhouse in London ? Who built it ?

The Theatre was the first public playhouse of London, located in the parish of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch. It was designed and built by James Burbage (the father of actor Richard Burbage).


4. When was it built ? When was it closed ?

The Theatre was a roofless, circular building with three galleries surrounding a yard. It opened in 1576, and several companies performed there, including Leicester's Men (1576-78), the Admiral's Men (1590-91), and Chamberlain's Men (1594-96), who were associated with William Shakespeare. The Theatre also housed fencing and athletic competitions. After the death of James Burbage in February 1597, the theatre's lease ended. In 1598 the building was dismantled, and Burbage's sons, Cuthbert and Richard, used its timbers to construct the first Globe Theatre.

5. Describe the particular shape of the theatres . Where did they take this shape from ?

The theatres were circular, open-air buildings, surrounded an open yard (like the Inn-Yards) with the stage at one end, jutting out into the audience to about half the depth of the theatre; the width was considerably more. Round three sides of the yard were three tiers of galleries where the wealthier or superior members of the audience sat; the rest of the audience stood in the open yard around the stage and (for obvious reasons) they were known as 'the Groundlings'.

The original Theatre was designed in a mix of traditions. Its name drew attention to the Roman theatre tradition. Its circular shape, though, reflected not the Roman D but the gatherings of crowds in town marketplaces, where all the players of 1576 got their training. Building a scaffold with three levels of galleries surrounding a circular yard copied the arrangement for audiences of existing bearbaiting and bullbaiting houses. The stage, a platform mounted in the yard, was the kind of thing that traveling companies set up in inn yards.

6. Who controlled the performances on behalf of the government?

The person who controlled the performances of plays on behalf of the government was the Master of Revels.In the 1590s this was a man called Edmund Tilney.

7. Why could the theatres be closed down ?

Playhouses could be closed for many reasons, among them outbreaks of the plague, sedition and immorality, which would certainly have included women appearing on stage.

8. Who played the parts of women on stage ? Why ?

Young men , as it was thought immoral for women to act in plays , even to attend the playhouses.

9. Did women attend the theatre?

Yes, women did attend the theatre although this was not formally approved of. In fact, every level of society went to the plays including apprentices, law students, craftsmen, pickpockets, ballad sellers, merchants and nobility.

Even legend says Queen Elizabeth attended the Globe secretly some times.

10. How much did it cost to stand in the yard ? And to sit in a gallery ? And to have a cushion ?And to sit in the lordsí room ?

It cost one penny to stand in the yard of the playhouse and a further penny for a seat in one of the covered galleries. A cushion to make watching the play more comfortable cost a further penny and a seat in the Lords' room cost approximately sixpence.

To stand in the yard - One penny

To sit in the gallery - Two pennies

To have a cushion - Three pennies

To sit in the Lords' room - Sixpence


3. Locate the parts of this Elizabethan theatre . You just must write the parts on the drawing.


  Stage Tiring House Yard Galleries
Gentlemen's Rooms Hut



Frons Scenae



( trap to below)

Musicians' Gallery

& Lords' Gallery

Two-penny Rooms
Sketch of the interior of the Swan Theatre, by Johannes de Witt, as copied by Aernout van Buchel, c. 1596


Anna Aznar & Jordi Jordan In love with Shakespeare teachers students mapa back