Shakespearean Playhouses - A History of English Theatres from the Beginnings to the Restoration
by Joseph Quincy Adams
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Transcriber's Notes:

The original book cites Holland's Her[Greek: o]ologia in several places, but consistently misspells it Hero[Greek: o]logia. This has been corrected based on the image of the original title page of Her[Greek: o]ologia at the Library of Congress,

The original book occasionally uses a numeral or letter enclosed in square brackets. In this e-book, these have been changed to curly brackets to avoid confusion with footnote markers.


A History of English Theatres from the Beginnings to the Restoration


JOSEPH QUINCY ADAMS Cornell University

Gloucester, Mass. Peter Smith 1960

Copyright, 1917, by Joseph Quincy Adams

Reprinted, 1960, by Permission of Houghton Mifflin Co.





The method of dramatic representation in the time of Shakespeare has long received close study. Among those who have more recently devoted their energies to the subject may be mentioned W.J. Lawrence, T.S. Graves, G.F. Reynolds, V.E. Albright, A.H. Thorndike, and B. Neuendorff, each of whom has embodied the results of his investigations in one or more noteworthy volumes. But the history of the playhouses themselves, a topic equally important, has not hitherto been attempted. If we omit the brief notices of the theatres in Edmond Malone's The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (1790) and John Payne Collier's The History of English Dramatic Poetry (1831), the sole book dealing even in part with the topic is T.F. Ordish's The Early London Theatres in the Fields. This book, however, though good for its time, was written a quarter of a century ago, before most of the documents relating to early theatrical history were discovered, and it discusses only six playhouses. The present volume takes advantage of all the materials made available by the industry of later scholars, and records the history of seventeen regular, and five temporary or projected, theatres. The book is throughout the result of a first-hand examination of original sources, and represents an independent interpretation of the historical evidences. As a consequence of this, as well as of a comparison (now for the first time possible) of the detailed records of the several playhouses, many conclusions long held by scholars have been set aside. I have made no systematic attempt to point out the cases in which I depart from previously accepted opinions, for the scholar will discover them for himself; but I believe I have never thus departed without being aware of it, and without having carefully weighed the entire evidence. Sometimes the evidence has been too voluminous or complex for detailed presentation; in these instances I have had to content myself with reference by footnotes to the more significant documents bearing on the point.

In a task involving so many details I cannot hope to have escaped errors—errors due not only to oversight, but also to the limitations of my knowledge or to mistaken interpretation. For such I can offer no excuse, though I may request from my readers the same degree of tolerance which I have tried to show other laborers in the field. In reproducing old documents I have as a rule modernized the spelling and the punctuation, for in a work of this character there seems to be no advantage in preserving the accidents and perversities of early scribes and printers. I have also consistently altered the dates when the Old Style conflicted with our present usage.

I desire especially to record my indebtedness to the researches of Professor C.W. Wallace, the extent of whose services to the study of the Tudor-Stuart drama has not yet been generally realized, and has sometimes been grudgingly acknowledged; and to the labors of Mr. E.K. Chambers and Mr. W.W. Greg, who, in the Collections of The Malone Society, and elsewhere, have rendered accessible a wealth of important material dealing with the early history of the stage.

Finally, I desire to express my gratitude to Mr. Hamilton Bell and the editor of The Architectural Record for permission to reproduce the illustration and description of Inigo Jones's plan of the Cockpit; to the Governors of Dulwich College for permission to reproduce three portraits from the Dulwich Picture Gallery, one of which, that of Joan Alleyn, has not previously been reproduced; to Mr. C.W. Redwood, formerly technical artist at Cornell University, for expert assistance in making the large map of London showing the sites of the playhouses, and for other help generously rendered; and to my colleagues, Professor Lane Cooper and Professor Clark S. Northup, for their kindness in reading the proofs.









VI. ST. PAUL'S 111







































































Before the building of regular playhouses the itinerant troupes of actors were accustomed, except when received into private homes, to give their performances in any place that chance provided, such as open street-squares, barns, town-halls, moot-courts, schoolhouses, churches, and—most frequently of all, perhaps—the yards of inns. These yards, especially those of carriers' inns, were admirably suited to dramatic representations, consisting as they did of a large open court surrounded by two or more galleries. Many examples of such inn-yards are still to be seen in various parts of England; a picture of the famous White Hart, in Southwark, is given opposite page 4 by way of illustration. In the yard a temporary platform—a few boards, it may be, set on barrel-heads[1]—could be erected for a stage; in the adjacent stables a dressing-room could be provided for the actors; the rabble—always the larger and more enthusiastic part of the audience—could be accommodated with standing-room about the stage; while the more aristocratic members of the audience could be comfortably seated in the galleries overhead. Thus a ready-made and very serviceable theatre was always at the command of the players; and it seems to have been frequently made use of from the very beginning of professionalism in acting.

[Footnote 1: "Thou shalt not need to travel with thy pumps full of gravel any more, after a blind jade and a hamper, and stalk upon boards and barrel-heads." (Poetaster, III, i.)]

One of the earliest extant moralities, Mankind, acted by strollers in the latter half of the fifteenth century, gives us an interesting glimpse of an inn-yard performance. The opening speech makes distinct reference to the two classes of the audience described above as occupying the galleries and the yard:

O ye sovereigns that sit, and ye brothers that stand right up.

The "brothers," indeed, seem to have stood up so closely about the stage that the actors had great difficulty in passing to and from their dressing-room. Thus, Nowadays leaves the stage with the request:

Make space, sirs, let me go out!

New Gyse enters with the threat:

Out of my way, sirs, for dread of a beating!

While Nought, with even less respect, shouts:

Avaunt, knaves! Let me go by!

Language such as this would hardly be appropriate if addressed to the "sovereigns" who sat in the galleries above; but, as addressed to the "brothers," it probably served to create a general feeling of good nature. And a feeling of good nature was desirable, for the actors were facing the difficult problem of inducing the audience to pay for its entertainment.

This problem they met by taking advantage of the most thrilling moment of the plot. The Vice and his wicked though jolly companions, having wholly failed to overcome the hero, Mankind, decide to call to their assistance no less a person than the great Devil himself; and accordingly they summon him with a "Walsingham wystyle." Immediately he roars in the dressing-room, and shouts:

I come, with my legs under me!

There is a flash of powder, and an explosion of fireworks, while the eager spectators crane their necks to view the entrance of this "abhomynabull" personage. But nothing appears; and in the expectant silence that follows the actors calmly announce a collection of money, facetiously making the appearance of the Devil dependent on the liberality of the audience:

New Gyse. Now ghostly to our purpose, worshipful sovereigns, We intend to gather money, if it please your negligence. For a man with a head that of great omnipotence—

Nowadays [interrupting]. Keep your tale, in goodness, I pray you, good brother!

[Addressing the audience, and pointing towards the dressing-room, where the Devil roars again.]

He is a worshipful man, sirs, saving your reverence. He loveth no groats, nor pence, or two-pence; Give us red royals, if ye will see his abominable presence.

New Gyse. Not so! Ye that may not pay the one, pay the other.

And with such phrases as "God bless you, master," "Ye will not say nay," "Let us go by," "Do them all pay," "Well mote ye fare," they pass through the audience gathering their groats, pence, and twopence; after which they remount the stage, fetch in the Devil, and continue their play without further interruption.

In the smaller towns the itinerant players might, through a letter of recommendation from their noble patron, or through the good-will of some local dignitary, secure the use of the town-hall, of the schoolhouse, or even of the village church. In such buildings, of course, they could give their performances more advantageously, for they could place money-takers at the doors, and exact adequate payment from all who entered. In the great city of London, however, the players were necessarily forced to make use almost entirely of public inn-yards—an arrangement which, we may well believe, they found far from satisfactory. Not being masters of the inns, they were merely tolerated; they had to content themselves with hastily provided and inadequate stage facilities; and, worst of all, for their recompense they had to trust to a hat collection, at best a poor means of securing money. Often too, no doubt, they could not get the use of a given inn-yard when they most needed it, as on holidays and festive occasions; and at all times they had to leave the public in uncertainty as to where or when plays were to be seen. Their street parade, with the noise of trumpets and drums, might gather a motley crowd for the yard, but in so large a place as London it was inadequate for advertisement among the better classes. And as the troupes of the city increased in wealth and dignity, and as the playgoing public grew in size and importance, the old makeshift arrangement became more and more unsatisfactory.

At last the unsatisfactory situation was relieved by the specific dedication of certain large inns to dramatic purposes; that is, the proprietors of certain inns found it to their advantage to subordinate their ordinary business to the urgent demands of the actors and the playgoing public. Accordingly they erected in their yards permanent stages adequately equipped for dramatic representations, constructed in their galleries wooden benches to accommodate as many spectators as possible, and were ready to let the use of their buildings to the actors on an agreement by which the proprietor shared with the troupe in the "takings" at the door. Thus there came into existence a number of inn-playhouses, where the actors, as masters of the place, could make themselves quite at home, and where the public without special notification could be sure of always finding dramatic entertainment.

Richard Flecknoe, in his Discourse of the English Stage (1664), goes so far as to dignify these reconstructed inns with the name "theatres." At first, says he, the players acted "without any certain theatres or set companions, till about the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign they began here to assemble into companies, and set up theatres, first in the city (as in the inn-yards of the Cross Keys and Bull in Grace and Bishop's Gate Street at this day to be seen), till that fanatic spirit [i.e., Puritanism], which then began with the stage and after ended with the throne, banished them thence into the suburbs"—that is, into Shoreditch and the Bankside, where, outside the jurisdiction of the puritanical city fathers, they erected their first regular playhouses.

The "banishment" referred to by Flecknoe was the Order of the Common Council issued on December 6, 1574. This famous document described public acting as then taking place "in great inns, having chambers and secret places adjoining to their open stages and galleries"; and it ordered that henceforth "no inn-keeper, tavern-keeper, nor other person whatsoever within the liberties of this city shall openly show, or play, nor cause or suffer to be openly showed or played within the house yard or any other place within the liberties of this city, any play," etc.

How many inns were let on special occasions for dramatic purposes we cannot say; but there were five "great inns," more famous than the rest, which were regularly used by the best London troupes. Thus Howes, in his continuation of Stow's Annals (p. 1004), in attempting to give a list of the playhouses which had been erected "within London and the suburbs," begins with the statement, "Five inns, or common osteryes, turned to playhouses." These five were the Bell and the Cross Keys, hard by each other in Gracechurch Street, the Bull, in Bishopsgate Street, the Bell Savage, on Ludgate Hill, and the Boar's Head, in Whitechapel Street without Aldgate.[2]

[Footnote 2: All historians of the drama have confused this great carriers' inn with the Boar's Head in Eastcheap made famous by Falstaff. The error seems to have come from the Analytical Index of the Remembrancia, which (p. 355) incorrectly catalogues the letter of March 31, 1602, as referring to the "Boar's Head in Eastcheap." The letter itself, however, when examined, gives no indication whatever of Eastcheap, and other evidence shows conclusively that the inn was situated in Whitechapel just outside of Aldgate.]

Although Flecknoe referred to the Order of the Common Council as a "banishment," it did not actually drive the players from the city. They were able, through the intervention of the Privy Council, and on the old excuse of rehearsing plays for the Queen's entertainment, to occupy the inns for a large part of each year.[3] John Stockwood, in a sermon preached at Paul's Cross, August 24, 1578, bitterly complains of the "eight ordinary places" used regularly for plays, referring, it seems, to the five inns and the three playhouses—the Theatre, Curtain, and Blackfriars—recently opened to the public.

[Footnote 3: See especially The Acts of the Privy Council and The Remembrancia of the City of London.]

Richard Reulidge, in A Monster Lately Found Out and Discovered (1628), writes that "soon after 1580" the authorities of London received permission from Queen Elizabeth and her Privy Council "to thrust the players out of the city, and to pull down all playhouses and dicing-houses within their liberties: which accordingly was effected; and the playhouses in Gracious Street [i.e., the Bell and the Cross Keys], Bishopsgate Street [i.e., the Bull], that nigh Paul's [i.e., Paul's singing school?], that on Ludgate Hill [i.e., the Bell Savage], and the Whitefriars[4] were quite put down and suppressed by the care of these religious senators."

[Footnote 4: There is some error here. The city had no jurisdiction over Whitefriars, or Blackfriars either; but there was a playhouse in Blackfriars at the time, and it was suppressed in 1584, though not by the city authorities. Possibly Reulidge should have written "Whitechapel."]

Yet, in spite of what Reulidge says, these five inns continued to be used by the players for many years.[5] No doubt they were often used surreptitiously. In Martin's Month's Mind (1589), we read that a person "for a penie may have farre better [entertainment] by oddes at the Theatre and Curtaine, and any blind playing house everie day."[6] But the more important troupes were commonly able, through the interference of the Privy Council, to get official permission to use the inns during a large part of each year.

[Footnote 5: The Remembrancia shows that the inn-playhouses remained for many years as sharp thorns in the side of the puritanical city fathers.]

[Footnote 6: Grosart, Nash, I, 179.]

There is not enough material about these early inn-playhouses to enable one to write their separate histories. Below, however, I have recorded in chronological order the more important references to them which have come under my observation.

1557. On September 5 the Privy Council instructed the Lord Mayor of London "that some of his officers do forthwith repair to the Boar's Head without Aldgate, where, the Lords are informed, a lewd play called A Sackful of News shall be played this day," to arrest the players, and send their playbook to the Council.[7]

[Footnote 7: Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, VI, 168.]

1573. During this year there were various fencing contests held at the Bull in Bishopsgate.[8]

[Footnote 8: W. Rendle, The Inns of Old Southwark, p. 235.]

1577. In February the Office of the Revels made a payment of 10d. "ffor the cariadge of the parts of ye well counterfeit from the Bell in gracious strete to St. Johns, to be performed for the play of Cutwell."[9]

[Footnote 9: A. Feuillerat, Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, p. 277.]

1579. On June 23 James Burbage was arrested for the sum of L5 13d. "as he came down Gracious Street towards the Cross Keys there to a play." The name of the proprietor of this inn-playhouse is preserved in one of the interrogatories connected with the case: "Item. Whether did you, John Hynde, about xiii years past, in anno 1579, the xxiii of June, about two of the clock in the afternoon, send the sheriff's officer unto the Cross Keys in Gratious Street, being then the dwelling house of Richard Ibotson, citizen and brewer of London," etc.[10] Nothing more, I believe, is known of this person.

[Footnote 10: Burbage v. Brayne, printed in C.W. Wallace, The First London Theatre, pp. 82, 90. Whether Burbage was going to the Cross Keys as a spectator or as an actor is not indicated; but the presumption is that he was then playing at the inn, although he was proprietor of the Theatre.]

1579. Stephen Gosson, in The Schoole of Abuse, writes favorably of "the two prose books played at the Bell Savage, where you shall find never a word without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter placed in vain; the Jew and Ptolome, shown at the Bull ... neither with amorous gesture wounding the eye, nor with slovenly talk hurting the ears of the chast hearers."[11]

[Footnote 11: Arber's English Reprints, p. 40.]

1582. On July 1 the Earl of Warwick wrote to the Lord Mayor requesting the city authorities to "give license to my servant, John David, this bearer, to play his profest prizes in his science and profession of defence at the Bull in Bishopsgate, or some other convenient place to be assigned within the liberties of London." The Lord Mayor refused to allow David to give his fencing contest "in an inn, which was somewhat too close for infection, and appointed him to play in an open place of the Leaden Hall," which, it may be added, was near the Bull.[12]

[Footnote 12: See The Malone Society's Collections, I, 55-57.]

1583. William Rendle, in The Inns of Old Southwark, p. 235, states that in this year "Tarleton, Wilson, and others note the stay of the plague, and ask leave to play at the Bull in Bishopsgate, or the Bell in Gracechurch Street," citing as his authority merely "City MS." The Privy Council on November 26, 1583, addressed to the Lord Mayor a letter requesting "that Her Majesty's Players [i.e., Tarleton, Wilson, etc.] may be suffered to play within the liberties as heretofore they have done."[13] And on November 28 the Lord Mayor issued to them a license to play "at the sign of the Bull in Bishopsgate Street, and the sign of the Bell in Gracious Street, and nowhere else within this City."[14]

[Footnote 13: See The Remembrancia, in The Malone Society's Collections, I, 66.]

[Footnote 14: C.W. Wallace, The First London Theatre, p. 11.]

1587. "James Cranydge played his master's prize the 21 of November, 1587, at the Bellsavage without Ludgate, at iiij sundry kinds of weapons.... There played with him nine masters."[15]

[Footnote 15: MS. Sloane, 2530, f. 6-7, quoted by J.O. Halliwell in his edition of Tarlton's Jests, p. xi. The Bell Savage seems to have been especially patronized by fencers. George Silver, in his Paradoxe of Defence (1599), tells how he and his brother once challenged two Italian fencers to a contest "to be played at the Bell Savage upon the scaffold, when he that went in his fight faster back than he ought, should be in danger to break his neck off the scaffold."]

Before 1588. In Tarlton's Jests[16] we find a number of references to that famous actor's pleasantries in the London inns used by the Queen's Players. It is impossible to date these exactly, but Tarleton became a member of the Queen's Players in 1583, and he died in 1588.

[Footnote 16: First printed in 1611; reprinted by J.O. Halliwell for The Shakespeare Society in 1844.]

At the Bull in Bishops-gate-street, where the Queen's Players oftentimes played, Tarleton coming on the stage, one from the gallery threw a pippin at him.

There was one Banks, in the time of Tarleton, who served the Earl of Essex, and had a horse of strange qualities; and being at the Cross Keys in Gracious Street getting money with him, as he was mightily resorted to. Tarleton then, with his fellows playing at the Bell by, came into the Cross Keys, amongst many people, to see fashions.

At the Bull at Bishops-gate was a play of Henry the Fifth.

The several "jests" which follow these introductory sentences indicate that the inn-yards differed in no essential way from the early public playhouses.

1588. "John Mathews played his master's prize the 31 day of January, 1588, at the Bell Savage without Ludgate."[17]

[Footnote 17: MS. Sloane, 2530, f. 6-7, quoted by Halliwell in his edition of Tarlton's Jests, p. xi. There is some difficulty with the date. One of the "masters" before whom the prize was played was "Rycharde Tarlton," whom Halliwell takes to be the famous actor of that name; but Tarleton the actor died on September 3, 1588. Probably Halliwell in transcribing the manuscript silently modernized the date from the Old Style.]

1589. In November Lord Burghley directed the Lord Mayor to "give order for the stay of all plays within the city." In reply the Lord Mayor wrote:

According to which your Lordship's good pleasure, I presently sent for such players as I could hear of; so as there appeared yesterday before me the Lord Strange's Players, to whom I specially gave in charge and required them in Her Majesty's name to forbear playing until further order might be given for their allowance in that respect. Whereupon the Lord Admiral's Players very dutifully obeyed; but the others, in very contemptuous manner departing from me, went to the Cross Keys and played that afternoon.[18]

[Footnote 18: Lansdowne MSS. 60, quoted by Collier, History of English Dramatic Poetry (1879), I, 265.]

1594. On October 8, Henry, Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain and the patron of Shakespeare's company, wrote to the Lord Mayor:

After my hearty commendations. Where my now company of players have been accustomed for the better exercise of their quality, and for the service of Her Majesty if need so require, to play this winter time within the city at the Cross Keys in Gracious Street, these are to require and pray your Lordship (the time being such as, thanks to God, there is now no danger of the sickness) to permit and suffer them so to do.[19]

[Footnote 19: The Remembrancia, The Malone Society's Collections, I, 73.]

By such devices as this the players were usually able to secure permission to act "within the city" during the disagreeable months of the winter when the large playhouses in the suburbs were difficult of access.

1594. Anthony Bacon, the elder brother of Francis, came to lodge in Bishopsgate Street. This fact very much disturbed his good mother, who feared lest his servants might be corrupted by the plays to be seen at the Bull near by.[20]

[Footnote 20: See W. Rendle, The Inns of Old Southwark, p. 236.]

1596. William Lambarde, in his Perambulation of Kent,[21] observes that none of those who go "to Paris Garden, the Bell Savage, or Theatre, to behold bear-baiting, interludes, or fence play, can account of any pleasant spectacle unless they first pay one penny at the gate, another at the entry of the scaffold, and the third for a quiet standing."

[Footnote 21: The passage does not appear in the earlier edition of 1576, though it was probably written shortly after the erection of the Theatre in the autumn of 1576.]

1602. On March 31 the Privy Council wrote to the Lord Mayor that the players of the Earl of Oxford and of the Earl of Worcester had been "joined by agreement together in one company, to whom, upon notice of Her Majesty's pleasure, at the suit of the Earl of Oxford, toleration hath been thought meet to be granted." The letter concludes:

And as the other companies that are allowed, namely of me the Lord Admiral, and the Lord Chamberlain, be appointed their certain houses, and one and no more to each company, so we do straightly require that this third company be likewise [appointed] to one place. And because we are informed the house called the Boar's Head is the place they have especially used and do best like of, we do pray and require you that the said house, namely the Boar's Head, may be assigned unto them.[22]

[Footnote 22: The Remembrancia, The Malone Society's Collections, I, 85.]

That the strong Oxford-Worcester combination should prefer the Boar's Head to the Curtain or the Rose Playhouse,[23] indicates that the inn-yard was not only large, but also well-equipped for acting.

[Footnote 23: They had to use the Rose nevertheless; see page 158.]

1604. In a draft of a license to be issued to Queen Anne's Company, those players are allowed to act "as well within their now usual houses, called the Curtain and the Boar's Head, within our County of Middlesex, as in any other playhouse not used by others."[24]

[Footnote 24: The Malone Society's Collections, I, 265.]

In 1608 the Boar's Head seems to have been occupied by the newly organized Prince Charles's Company. In William Kelly's extracts from the payments of the city of Leicester we find the entry: "Itm. Given to the Prince's Players, of Whitechapel, London, xx s."

In 1664, as Flecknoe tells us, the Cross Keys and the Bull still gave evidence of their former use as playhouses; perhaps even then they were occasionally let for fencing and other contests. In 1666 the great fire completely destroyed the Bell, the Cross Keys, and the Bell Savage; the Bull, however, escaped, and enjoyed a prosperous career for many years after. Samuel Pepys was numbered among its patrons, and writers of the Restoration make frequent reference to it. What became of the Boar's Head without Aldgate I am unable to learn; its memory, however, is perpetuated to-day in Boar's Head Yard, between Middlesex Street and Goulston Street, Whitechapel.



As the actors rapidly increased in number and importance, and as Londoners flocked in ever larger crowds to witness plays, the animosity of two forces was aroused, Puritanism and Civic Government,—forces which opposed the drama for different reasons, but with almost equal fervor. And when in the course of time the Governors of the city themselves became Puritans, the combined animosity thus produced was sufficient to drive the players out of London into the suburbs.

The Puritans attacked the drama as contrary to Holy Writ, as destructive of religion, and as a menace to public morality. Against plays, players, and playgoers they waged in pulpit and pamphlet a warfare characterized by the most intense fanaticism. The charges they made—of ungodliness, idolatrousness, lewdness, profanity, evil practices, enormities, and "abuses" of all kinds—are far too numerous to be noted here; they are interesting chiefly for their unreasonableness and for the violence with which they were urged.

And, after all, however much the Puritans might rage, they were helpless; authority to restrain acting was vested in the Lord Mayor, his brethren the Aldermen, and the Common Council. The attitude of these city officials towards the drama was unmistakable: they had no more love for the actors than had the Puritans. They found that "plays and players" gave them more trouble than anything else in the entire administration of municipal affairs. The dedication of certain "great inns" to the use of actors and to the entertainment of the pleasure-loving element of the city created new and serious problems for those charged with the preservation of civic law and order. The presence in these inns of private rooms adjoining the yard and balconies gave opportunity for immorality, gambling, fleecing, and various other "evil practices"—an opportunity which, if we may believe the Common Council, was not wasted. Moreover, the proprietors of these inns made a large share of their profits from the beer, ale, and other drinks dispensed to the crowds before, during, and after performances (the proprietor of the Cross Keys, it will be recalled, was described as "citizen and brewer of London"); and the resultant intemperance among "such as frequented the said plays, being the ordinary place of meeting for all vagrant persons, and masterless men that hang about the city, theeves, horse-stealers, whoremongers, cozeners, cony-catching persons, practicers of treason, and such other like,"[25] led to drunkenness, frays, bloodshed, and often to general disorder. Sometimes, as we know, turbulent apprentices and other factions met by appointment at plays for the sole purpose of starting riots or breaking open jails. "Upon Whitsunday," writes the Recorder to Lord Burghley, "by reason no plays were the same day, all the city was quiet."[26]

[Footnote 25: So the Lord Mayor characterized playgoers; see The Remembrancia, in The Malone Society's Collections, I, 75.]

[Footnote 26: The Malone Society's Collections, I, 164.]

Trouble of an entirely different kind arose when in the hot months of the summer the plague was threatening. The meeting together at plays of "great multitudes of the basest sort of people" served to spread the infection throughout the city more quickly and effectively than could anything else. On such occasions it was exceedingly difficult for the municipal authorities to control the actors, who were at best a stubborn and unruly lot; and often the pestilence had secured a full start before acting could be suppressed.

These troubles, and others which cannot here be mentioned, made one of the Lord Mayors exclaim in despair: "The Politique State and Government of this City by no one thing is so greatly annoyed and disquieted as by players and plays, and the disorders which follow thereupon."[27]

[Footnote 27: The Remembrancia, in The Malone Society's Collections, I, 69.]

This annoyance, serious enough in itself, was aggravated by the fact that most of the troupes were under the patronage of great noblemen, and some were even high in favor with the Queen. As a result, the attempts on the part of the Lord Mayor and his Aldermen to regulate the players were often interfered with by other or higher authority. Sometimes it was a particular nobleman, whose request was not to be ignored, who intervened in behalf of his troupe; most often, however, it was the Privy Council, representing the Queen and the nobility in general, which championed the cause of the actors and countermanded the decrees of the Lord Mayor and his brethren. One of the most notable things in the City's Remembrancia is this long conflict of authority between the Common Council and the Privy Council over actors and acting.

In 1573 the situation seems to have approached a crisis. The Lord Mayor had become strongly puritanical, and in his efforts to suppress "stage-plays" was placing more and more obstacles in the way of the actors. The temper of the Mayor is revealed in two entries in the records of the Privy Council. On July 13, 1573, the Lords of the Council sent a letter to him requesting him "to permit liberty to certain Italian players"; six days later they sent a second letter, repeating the request, and "marveling that he did it not at their first request."[28] His continued efforts to suppress the drama finally led the troupes to appeal for relief to the Privy Council. On March 22, 1574, the Lords of the Council dispatched "a letter to the Lord Mayor to advertise their Lordships what causes he hath to restrain plays." His answer has not been preserved, but that he persisted in his hostility to the drama is indicated by the fact that in May the Queen openly took sides with the players. To the Earl of Leicester's troupe she issued a special royal license, authorizing them to act "as well within our city of London and liberties of the same, as also within the liberties and freedoms of any our cities, towns, boroughs, etc., whatsoever"; and to the mayors and other officers she gave strict orders not to interfere with such performances: "Willing and commanding you, and every of you, as ye tender our pleasure, to permit and suffer them herein without any your lets, hindrances, or molestation during the term aforesaid, any act, statute, proclamation, or commandment heretofore made, or hereafter to be made, to the contrary notwithstanding."

[Footnote 28: Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, VIII, 131, 132.]

This license was a direct challenge to the authority of the Lord Mayor. He dared not answer it as directly; but on December 6, 1574, he secured from the Common Council the passage of an ordinance which placed such heavy restrictions upon acting as virtually to nullify the license issued by the Queen, and to regain for the Mayor complete control of the drama within the city. The Preamble of this remarkable ordinance clearly reveals the puritanical character of the City Government:

Whereas heretofore sundry great disorders and inconveniences have been found to ensue to this city by the inordinate haunting of great multitudes of people, specially youths, to plays, interludes, and shews: namely, occasion of frays and quarrels; evil practises of incontinency in great inns having chambers and secret places adjoining to their open stages and galleries; inveigling and alluring of maids, specially orphans and good citizens' children under age, to privy and unmeet contracts; the publishing of unchaste, uncomly, and unshamefaced speeches and doings; withdrawing of the Queen's Majesty's subjects from divine service on Sundays and holy days, at which times such plays were chiefly used; unthrifty waste of the money of the poor and fond persons; sundry robberies by picking and cutting of purses; uttering of popular, busy, and seditious matters; and many other corruptions of youth, and other enormities; besides that also sundry slaughters and maimings of the Queen's subjects have happened by ruins of scaffolds, frames, and stages, and by engines, weapons, and powder used in plays. And whereas in time of God's visitation by the plague such assemblies of the people in throng and press have been very dangerous for spreading of infection.... And for that the Lord Mayor and his brethren the Aldermen, together with the grave and discreet citizens in the Common Council assembled, do doubt and fear lest upon God's merciful withdrawing his hand of sickness from us (which God grant), the people, specially the meaner and most unruly sort, should with sudden forgetting of His visitation, without fear of God's wrath, and without due respect of the good and politique means that He hath ordained for the preservation of common weals and peoples in health and good order, return to the undue use of such enormities, to the great offense of God....[29]

[Footnote 29: For the complete document see W.C. Hazlitt, The English Drama and Stage, p. 27.]

The restrictions on playing imposed by the ordinance may be briefly summarized:

1. Only such plays should be acted as were free from all unchastity, seditiousness, and "uncomely matter."

2. Before being acted all plays should be "first perused and allowed in such order and form, and by such persons as by the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen for the time being shall be appointed."

3. Inns or other buildings used for acting, and their proprietors, should both be licensed by the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen.

4. The proprietors of such buildings should be "bound to the Chamberlain of London" by a sufficient bond to guarantee "the keeping of good order, and avoiding of" the inconveniences noted in the Preamble.

5. No plays should be given during the time of sickness, or during any inhibition ordered at any time by the city authorities.

6. No plays should be given during "any usual time of divine service," and no persons should be admitted into playing places until after divine services were over.

7. The proprietors of such places should pay towards the support of the poor a sum to be agreed upon by the city authorities.

In order, however, to avoid trouble with the Queen, or those noblemen who were accustomed to have plays given in their homes for the private entertainment of themselves and their guests, the Common Council added, rather grudgingly, the following proviso:

Provided alway that this act (otherwise than touching the publishing of unchaste, seditious, and unmeet matters) shall not extend to any plays, interludes, comedies, tragedies, or shews to be played or shewed in the private house, dwelling, or lodging of any nobleman, citizen, or gentleman, which shall or will then have the same there so played or shewed in his presence for the festivity of any marriage, assembly of friends, or other like cause, without public or common collections of money of the auditory or beholders thereof.

Such regulations if strictly enforced would prove very annoying to the players. But, as the Common Council itself informs us, "these orders were not then observed." The troupes continued to play in the city, protected against any violent action on the part of the municipal authorities by the known favor of the Queen and the frequent interference of the Privy Council. This state of affairs was not, of course, comfortable for the actors; but it was by no means desperate, and for several years after the passage of the ordinance of 1574 they continued without serious interruption to occupy their inn-playhouses.

The long-continued hostility of the city authorities, however, of which the ordinance of 1574 was an ominous expression, led more or less directly to the construction of special buildings devoted to plays and situated beyond the jurisdiction of the Common Council. As the Reverend John Stockwood, in A Sermon Preached at Paules Crosse, 1578, indignantly puts it:

Have we not houses of purpose, built with great charges for the maintenance of plays, and that without the liberties, as who would say "There, let them say what they will say, we will play!"

Thus came into existence playhouses; and with them dawned a new era in the history of the English drama.



The hostility of the city to the drama was unquestionably the main cause of the erection of the first playhouse; yet combined with this were two other important causes, usually overlooked. The first was the need of a building specially designed to meet the requirements of the players and of the public, a need yearly growing more urgent as plays became more complex, acting developed into a finer art, and audiences increased in dignity as well as in size. The second and the more immediate cause was the appearance of a man with business insight enough to see that such a building would pay. The first playhouse, we should remember, was not erected by a troupe of actors, but by a money-seeking individual.[30] Although he was himself an actor, and the manager of a troupe, he did not, it seems, take the troupe into his confidence. In complete independence of any theatrical organization he proceeded with the erection of his building as a private speculation; and, we are told, he dreamed of the "continual great profit and commodity through plays that should be used there every week."

[Footnote 30: I emphasize this point because the opposite is the accepted opinion. We find it expressed in The Cambridge History of English Literature, VI, 431, as follows: "Certain players, finding the city obdurate, and unwilling to submit to its severe regulations, began to look about them for some means of carrying on their business out of reach of the mayor's authority," etc.]

This man, "the first builder of playhouses,"—and, it might have been added, the pioneer in a new field of business,—was James Burbage, originally, as we are told by one who knew him well, "by occupation a joiner; and reaping but a small living by the same, gave it over and became a common player in plays."[31] As an actor he was more successful, for as early as 1572 we find him at the head of Leicester's excellent troupe.

[Footnote 31: Deposition by Robert Myles, 1592, printed in Wallace's The First London Theatre, p. 141.]

Having in 1575 conceived the notion of erecting a building specially designed for dramatic entertainments, he was at once confronted with the problem of a suitable location. Two conditions narrowed his choice: first, the site had to be outside the jurisdiction of the Common Council; secondly, it had to be as near as possible to the city.

No doubt he at once thought of the two suburbs that were specially devoted to recreation, the Bankside to the south, and Finsbury Field to the north of the city. The Bankside had for many years been associated in the minds of Londoners with "sports and pastimes." Thither the citizens were accustomed to go to witness bear-baiting and bull-baiting, to practice archery, and to engage in various athletic sports. Thither, too, for many years the actors had gone to present their plays. In 1545 King Henry VIII had issued a proclamation against vagabonds, ruffians, idle persons, and common players,[32] in which he referred to their "fashions commonly used at the Bank." The Bankside, however, was associated with the lowest and most vicious pleasures of London, for here were situated the stews, bordering the river's edge. Since the players were at this time subject to the bitterest attacks from the London preachers, Burbage wisely decided not to erect the first permanent home of the drama in a locality already a common target for puritan invective.

[Footnote 32: See page 134.]

The second locality, Finsbury Field, had nearly all the advantages, and none of the disadvantages, of the Bankside. Since 1315 the Field had been in the possession of the city,[33] and had been used as a public playground, where families could hold picnics, falconers could fly their hawks, archers could exercise their sport, and the militia on holidays could drill with all "the pomp and circumstance of glorious war." In short, the Field was eminently respectable, was accessible to the city, and was definitely associated with the idea of entertainment. The locality, therefore, was almost ideal for the purpose Burbage had in mind.[34]

[Footnote 33: See The Remembrancia, p. 274; Stow, Survey. The Corporation of London held the manor on lease from St. Paul's Cathedral until 1867.]

[Footnote 34: Doubtless, too, Burbage was influenced in his choice by the fact that he had already made his home in the Liberty of Shoreditch, near Finsbury Field.]

The new playhouse, of course, could not be erected in the Field itself, which was under the control of the city; but just to the east of the Field certain vacant land, part of the dissolved Priory of Holywell, offered a site in every way suitable to the purpose. The Holywell property, at the dissolution of the Priory, had passed under the jurisdiction of the Crown, and hence the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen could not enforce municipal ordinances there. Moreover, it was distant from the city wall not much more than half a mile. The old conventual church had been demolished, the Priory buildings had been converted into residences, and the land near the Shoreditch highway had been built up with numerous houses. The land next to the Field, however, was for the most part undeveloped. It contained some dilapidated tenements, a few old barns formerly belonging to the Priory, and small garden plots, conspicuous objects in the early maps.

Burbage learned that a large portion of this land lying next to the Field was in the possession of a well-to-do gentleman named Gyles Alleyn,[35] and that Alleyn was willing to lease a part of his holding on the conditions of development customary in this section of London. These conditions are clearly revealed in a chancery suit of 1591:

The ground there was for the most part converted first into garden plots, and then leasing the same to diverse tenants caused them to covenant or promise to build upon the same, by occasion whereof the buildings which are there were for the most part erected and the rents increased.[36]

[Footnote 35: For a detailed history of the property from the year 1128, and for the changes in the ownership of Alleyn's portion after the dissolution, see Braines, Holywell Priory.]

[Footnote 36: Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines, I, 365. The suit concerns the Curtain property, somewhat south of the Alleyn property, but a part of the Priory.]

The part of Alleyn's property on which Burbage had his eye was in sore need of improvement. It consisted of five "paltry tenements," described as "old, decayed, and ruinated for want of reparation, and the best of them was but of two stories high," and a long barn "very ruinous and decayed and ready to have fallen down," one half of which was used as a storage-room, the other half as a slaughter-house. Three of the tenements had small gardens extending back to the Field, and just north of the barn was a bit of "void ground," also adjoining the Field. It was this bit of "void ground" that Burbage had selected as a suitable location for his proposed playhouse. The accompanying map of the property[37] will make clear the position of this "void ground" and of the barns and tenements about it. Moreover, it will serve to indicate the exact site of the Theatre. If one will bear in mind the fact that in the London of to-day Curtain Road marks the eastern boundary of Finsbury Field, and New Inn Yard cuts off the lower half of the Great Barn, he will be able to place Burbage's structure within a few yards.[38]

[Footnote 37: I have based this map in large measure on the documents presented by Braines in his excellent pamphlet, Holywell Priory.]

[Footnote 38: For proof see Braines, op. cit.]

The property is carefully described in the lease—quoted below—which Burbage secured from Alleyn, but the reader will need to refer to the map in order to follow with ease the several paragraphs of description:[39]

All those two houses or tenements, with appurtenances, which at the time of the said former demise made were in the several tenures or occupations of Joan Harrison, widow, and John Dragon.

And also all that house or tenement with the appurtenances, together with the garden ground lying behind part of the same, being then likewise in the occupation of William Gardiner; which said garden plot doth extend in breadth from a great stone wall there which doth enclose part of the garden then or lately being in the occupation of the said Gyles, unto the garden there then in the occupation of Edwin Colefox, weaver, and in length from the same house or tenement unto a brick wall there next unto the fields commonly called Finsbury Fields.

And also all that house or tenement, with the appurtenances, at the time of the said former demise made called or known by the name of the Mill-house; together with the garden ground lying behind part of the same, also at the time of the said former demise made being in the tenure or occupation of the aforesaid Edwin Colefox, or of his assigns; which said garden ground doth extend in length from the same house or tenement unto the aforesaid brick wall next unto the aforesaid Fields.

And also all those three upper rooms, with the appurtenances, next adjoining to the aforesaid Mill-house, also being at the time of the said former demise made in the occupation of Thomas Dancaster, shoemaker, or of his assigns; and also all the nether rooms, with the appurtenances, lying under the same three upper rooms, and next adjoining also to the aforesaid house or tenement called the Mill-house, then also being in the several tenures or occupations of Alice Dotridge, widow, and Richard Brockenbury, or of their assigns; together with the garden ground lying behind the same, extending in length from the same nether rooms down unto the aforesaid brick wall next unto the aforesaid Fields, and then or late being also in the tenure or occupation of the aforesaid Alice Dotridge.

And also so much of the ground and soil lying and being afore all the tenements or houses before granted, as extendeth in length from the outward part of the aforesaid tenements being at the time of the making of the said former demise in the occupation of the aforesaid Joan Harrison and John Dragon, unto a pond there being next unto the barn or stable then in the occupation of the right honorable the Earl of Rutland or of his assigns, and in breadth from the aforesaid tenement or Mill-house to the midst of the well being afore the same tenements.

And also all that Great Barn, with the appurtenances, at the time of the making of the said former demise made being in the several occupations of Hugh Richards, innholder, and Robert Stoughton, butcher; and also a little piece of ground then inclosed with a pale and next adjoining to the aforesaid barn, and then or late before that in the occupation of the said Robert Stoughton; together also with all the ground and soil lying and being between the said nether rooms last before expressed, and the aforesaid Great Barn, and the aforesaid pond; that is to say, extending in length from the aforesaid pond unto a ditch beyond the brick wall next the aforesaid Fields.

And also the said Gyles Alleyn and Sara his wife do by these presents demise, grant, and to farm lett unto the said James Burbage all the right, title, and interest which the said Gyles and Sara have or ought to have in or to all the grounds and soil lying between the aforesaid Great Barn and the barn being at the time of the said former demise in the occupation of the Earl of Rutland or of his assigns, extending in length from the aforesaid pond and from the aforesaid stable or barn then in the occupation of the aforesaid Earl of Rutland or of his assigns, down to the aforesaid brick wall next the aforesaid Fields.[40]

And also the said Gyles and Sara do by these presents demise, grant, and to farm lett to the said James all the said void ground lying and being betwixt the aforesaid ditch and the aforesaid brick wall, extending in length from the aforesaid [great stone] wall[41] which encloseth part of the aforesaid garden being at the time of the making of the said former demise or late before that in the occupation of the said Gyles Allen, unto the aforesaid barn then in the occupation of the aforesaid Earl or of his assigns.

[Footnote 39: The original lease may be found incorporated in Alleyn v. Street, Coram Rege, 1599-1600, printed in full by Wallace, The First London Theatre, pp. 163-80, and again in Alleyn v. Burbage, Queen's Bench, 1602, Wallace, op. cit., pp. 267-75. The lease, I think, was in English not Latin, and hence is more correctly given in the first document; in the second document the scrivener has translated it into Latin. The lease is also given in part on page 187.]

[Footnote 40: This part of the property was claimed by the Earl of Rutland, and was being used by him. For a long time it was the subject of dispute. Ultimately, it seems, the Earl secured the title, as he had always had the use of the property. This probably explains why Burbage did not attempt to erect his playhouse there.]

[Footnote 41: The document by error reads "brick wall" but the mistake is obvious, and the second version of the lease does not repeat the error. This clause merely means that the ditch, not the brick wall, constituted the western boundary of the property.]

The lease was formally signed on April 13, 1576, and Burbage entered into the possession of his property. Since the terms of the lease are important for an understanding of the subsequent history of the playhouse, I shall set these forth briefly:

First, the lease was to run for twenty-one years from April 13, 1576, at an annual rental of L14.

Secondly, Burbage was to spend before the expiration of ten years the sum of L200 in rebuilding and improving the decayed tenements.

Thirdly, in view of this expenditure of L200, Burbage was to have at the end of the ten years the right to renew the lease at the same rental of L14 a year for twenty-one years, thus making the lease good in all for thirty-one years:

And the said Gyles Alleyn and Sara his wife did thereby covenant with the said James Burbage that they should and would at any time within the ten years next ensuing at or upon the lawful request or demand of the said James Burbage make or cause to be made to the said James Burbage a new lease or grant like to the same presents for the term of one and twenty years more, to begin from the date of making the same lease, yielding therefor the rent reserved in the former indenture.[42]

[Footnote 42: Quoted from Burbage v. Alleyn, Court of Requests, 1600, Wallace, op. cit., p. 182. I have stripped the passage of some of its legal verbiage.]

Fourthly, it was agreed that at any time before the expiration of the lease, Burbage might take down and carry away to his own use any building that in the mean time he might have erected on the vacant ground for the purpose of a playhouse:

And farther, the said Gyles Alleyn and Sara his wife did covenant and grant to the said James Burbage that it should and might be lawful to the said James Burbage (in consideration of the imploying and bestowing the foresaid two hundred pounds in forme aforesaid) at any time or times before the end of the said term of one and twenty years, to have, take down, and carry away to his own proper use for ever all such buildings and other things as should be builded, erected, or set up in or upon the gardens and void grounds by the said James, either for a theatre or playing place, or for any other lawful use, without any stop, claim, let, trouble, or interruption of the said Gyles Alleyn and Sara his wife.[43]

[Footnote 43: Quoted from Burbage v. Alleyn, Court of Requests, 1600, Wallace, op. cit., p. 182.]

Protected by these specific terms, Burbage proceeded to the erection of his playhouse. He must have had faith and abundant courage, for he was a poor man, quite unequal to the large expenditures called for by his plans. A person who had known him for many years, deposed in 1592 that "James Burbage was not at the time of the first beginning of the building of the premises worth above one hundred marks[44] in all his substance, for he and this deponent were familiarly acquainted long before that time and ever since."[45] We are not surprised to learn, therefore, that he was "constrained to borrow diverse sums of money," and that he actually pawned the lease itself to a money-lender.[46] Even so, without assistance, we are told, he "should never be able to build it, for it would cost five times as much as he was worth."

[Footnote 44: That is, about L80.]

[Footnote 45: Wallace, op. cit., p. 134; cf. p. 153.]

[Footnote 46: Wallace, op. cit., p. 151. Cuthbert Burbage declared in 1635: "The Theatre he built with many hundred pounds taken up at interest." (Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines, I, 317.)]

Fortunately he had a wealthy brother-in-law, John Brayne,[47] a London grocer, described as "worth five hundred pounds at the least, and by common fame worth a thousand marks."[48] In some way Brayne became interested in the new venture. Like Burbage, he believed that large profits would flow from such a novel undertaking; and as a result he readily agreed to share the expense of erecting and maintaining the building. Years later members of the Brayne faction asserted that James Burbage "induced" his brother-in-law to venture upon the enterprise by unfairly representing the great profits to ensue;[49] but the evidence, I think, shows that Brayne eagerly sought the partnership. Burbage himself asserted in 1588 that Brayne "practiced to obtain some interest therein," and presumed "that he might easily compass the same by reason that he was natural brother"; and that he voluntarily offered to "bear and pay half the charges of the said building then bestowed and thereafter to be bestowed" in order "that he might have the moiety[50] of the above named Theatre."[51] As a further inducement, so the Burbages asserted, he promised that "for that he had no children," the moiety at his death should go to the children of James Burbage, "whose advancement he then seemed greatly to tender."

[Footnote 47: The name is often spelled "Braynes."]

[Footnote 48: Wallace, op. cit., p. 109.]

[Footnote 49: See Wallace, op. cit., pp. 139 seq.]

[Footnote 50: That is, half-interest.]

[Footnote 51: Wallace, op. cit., p. 40.]

Whatever caused Brayne to interest himself in the venture, he quickly became fired with such hopes of great gain that he not only spent upon the building all the money he could gather or borrow, but sold his stock of groceries for L146, disposed of his house for L100, even pawned his clothes, and put his all into the new structure. The spirit in which he worked to make the venture a success, and the personal sacrifices that he and his wife made, fully deserve the quotation here of two legal depositions bearing on the subject:

This deponent, being servant, in Bucklersbury, aforesaid, to one Robert Kenningham, grocer, in which street the said John Brayne dwelled also, and of the same trade, he, the said Brayne, at the time he joined with the said James Burbage in the aforesaid lease, was reputed among his neighbors to be worth one thousand pounds at the least, and that after he had joined with the said Burbage in the matter of the building of the said Theatre, he began to slack his own trade, and gave himself to the building thereof, and the chief care thereof he took upon him, and hired workmen of all sorts for that purpose, bought timber and all other things belonging thereunto, and paid all. So as, in this deponent's conscience, he bestowed thereupon for his owne part the sum of one thousand marks at the least, in so much as his affection was given so greatly to the finishing thereof, in hope of great wealth and profit during their lease, that at the last he was driven to sell to this deponent's father his lease of the house wherein he dwelled for L100, and to this deponent all such wares as he had left and all that belonged thereunto remaining in the same, for the sum of L146 and odd money, whereof this deponent did pay for him to one Kymbre, an ironmonger in London, for iron work which the said Brayne bestowed upon the said Theatre, the sum of L40. And afterwards the said Brayne took the matter of the said building so upon him as he was driven to borrow money to supply the same, saying to this deponent that his brother Burbage was not able to help the same, and that he found not towards it above the value of fifty pounds, some part in mony and the rest in stuff.[52]

[Footnote 52: Wallace, op. cit., p. 136.]

In reading the next deposition, one should bear in mind the fact that the deponent, Robert Myles, was closely identified with the Brayne faction, and was, therefore, a bitter enemy to the Burbages. Yet his testimony, though prejudiced, gives us a vivid picture of Brayne's activity in the building of the Theatre:

So the said John Brayne made a great sum of money of purpose and intent to go to the building of the said playhouse, and thereupon did provide timber and other stuff needful for the building thereof, and hired carpenters and plasterers for the same purpose, and paid the workmen continually. So as he for his part laid out of his own purse and what upon credit about the same to the sum of L600 or L700 at the least. And in the same time, seeing the said James Burbage nothing able either of himself or by his credit to contribute any like sum towards the building thereof, being then to be finished or else to be lost that had been bestowed upon it already, the said Brayne was driven to sell his house he dwelled in in Bucklersbury, and all his stock that was left, and give up his trade, yea in the end to pawn and sell both his own garments and his wife's, and to run in debt to many for money, to finish the said playhouse, and so to employ himself only upon that matter, and all whatsoever he could make, to his utter undoing, for he saieth that in the latter end of the finishing thereof, the said Brayne and his wife, the now complainants, were driven to labor in the said work for saving of some of the charge in place of two laborers, whereas the said James Burbage went about his own business, and at sometimes when he did take upon him to do some thing in the said work, he would be and was allowed a workman's hire as other the workman there had.[53]

[Footnote 53: Brayne v. Burbage, 1592. Printed in full by Wallace, op cit. p. 141.]

The last fling at Burbage is quite gratuitous; yet it is probably true that the main costs of erecting the playhouse fell upon the shoulders of Brayne. The evidence is contradictory; some persons assert that Burbage paid half the cost of the building,[54] others that Brayne paid nearly all,[55] and still others content themselves with saying that Brayne paid considerably more than half. The last statement may be accepted as true. The assertion of Gyles Alleyn in 1601, that the Theatre was "erected at the costs and charges of one Brayne and not of the said James Burbage, to the value of one thousand marks,"[56] is doubtless incorrect; more correct is the assertion of Robert Myles, executor of the Widow Brayne's will, in 1597: "The said John Brayne did join with the said James [Burbage] in the building aforesaid, and did expend thereupon greater sums than the said James, that is to say, at least five or six hundred pounds."[57] Since there is evidence that the playhouse ultimately cost about L700,[58] we might hazard the guess that of this sum Brayne furnished about L500,[59] and Burbage about L200. To equalize the expenditure it was later agreed that "the said Brayne should take and receive all the rents and profits of the said Theatre to his own use until he should be answered such sums of money which he had laid out for and upon the same Theatre more than the said Burbage had done."[60]

[Footnote 54: Wallace, op. cit., pp. 213, 217, 263, 265, et al.]

[Footnote 55: Wallace, op. cit., pp. 137, 141, 142, 148, 153.]

[Footnote 56: Alleyn v. Burbage, Star Chamber Proceedings, 1601-02; printed by Wallace, op. cit., p. 277.]

[Footnote 57: Myles v. Burbage and Alleyn, 1597; printed by Wallace, op. cit., p. 159; cf. pp. 263, 106, 152.]

[Footnote 58: See Wallace, op. cit., p. 277.]

[Footnote 59: This agrees with the claim of Brayne's widow.]

[Footnote 60: Wallace, op. cit., p. 120.]

But if Burbage at the outset was "nothing able to contribute any" great sum of ready money towards the building of the first playhouse, he did contribute other things equally if not more important. In the first place, he conceived the idea, and he carried it as far towards realization as his means allowed. In the second place, he planned the building—its stage as well as its auditorium—to meet the special demands of the actors and the comfort of the audience. This called for bold originality and for ingenuity of a high order, for, it must be remembered, he had no model to study—he was designing the first structure of its kind in England.[61] For this task he was well prepared. In the first place, he was an actor of experience; in the second place, he was the manager of one of the most important troupes in England; and, in the third place, he was by training and early practice a carpenter and builder. In other words, he had exact knowledge of what was needed, and the practical skill to meet those needs.

[Footnote 61: Mr. E.K. Chambers (The Mediaeval Stage, I, 383, note 2; II, 190, note 4) calls attention to a "theatre" belonging to the city of Essex as early as 1548. Possibly the Latin document he cites referred to an amphitheatre of some sort near the city which was used for dramatic performances; at any rate "in theatro" does not necessarily imply the existence of a playhouse (cf., for example, op. cit., I, 81-82). There is also a reference (quoted by Chambers, op. cit., II, 191, note 1, from Norfolk Archaeology, XI, 336) to a "game-house" built by the corporation of Yarmouth in 1538 for dramatic performances. What kind of house this was we do not know, but the corporation leased it for other purposes, with the proviso that it should be available "at all such times as any interludes or plays should be ministered or played." Howes, in his continuation of Stow's Annals (1631), p. 1004, declares that before Burbage's time he "neither knew, heard, nor read of any such theatres, set stages, or playhouses as have been purposely built, within man's memory"; and Cuthbert Burbage confidently asserted that his father "was the first builder of playhouses"—an assertion which, I think, cannot well be denied.]

The building that he designed and erected he named—as by virtue of priority he had a right to do—"The Theatre."

Of the Theatre, unfortunately, we have no pictorial representation, and no formal description, so that our knowledge of its size, shape, and general arrangement must be derived from scattered and miscellaneous sources. That the building was large we may feel sure; the cost of its erection indicates as much. The Fortune, one of the largest and handsomest of the later playhouses, cost only L520, and the Hope, also very large, cost L360. The Theatre, therefore, built at a cost of L700, could not have been small. It is commonly referred to, even so late as 1601, as "the great house called the Theatre," and the author of Skialetheia (1598) applied to it the significant adjective "vast." Burbage, no doubt, had learned from his experience as manager of a troupe the pecuniary advantage of having an auditorium large enough to receive all who might come. Exactly how many people his building could accommodate we cannot say. The Reverend John Stockwood, in 1578, exclaims bitterly: "Will not a filthy play, with the blast of a trumpet, sooner call thither a thousand than an hour's tolling of the bell bring to the sermon a hundred?"[62] And Fleetwood, the City Recorder, in describing a quarrel which took place in 1584 "at Theatre door," states that "near a thousand people" quickly assembled when the quarrel began.

[Footnote 62: The rest of his speech indicates that he had the Theatre in mind. The passage, of course, is rhetorical.]

In shape the building was probably polygonal, or circular. I see no good reason for supposing that it was square; Johannes de Witt referred to it as an "amphitheatre," and the Curtain, erected the following year in imitation, was probably polygonal.[63] It was built of timber, and its exterior, no doubt, was—as in the case of subsequent playhouses—of lime and plaster. The interior consisted of three galleries surrounding an open space called the "yard." The German traveler, Samuel Kiechel, who visited London in the autumn of 1585, described the playhouses—i.e., the Theatre and the Curtain—as "singular [sonderbare] houses, which are so constructed that they have about three galleries, one above the other."[64] And Stephen Gosson, in Plays Confuted (c. 1581) writes: "In the playhouses at London, it is the fashion for youths to go first into the yard, and to carry their eye through every gallery; then, like unto ravens, where they spy the carrion, thither they fly, and press as near to the fairest as they can." The "yard" was unroofed, and all persons there had to stand during the entire performance. The galleries, however, were protected by a roof, were divided into "rooms," and were provided for the most part with seats. Gyles Alleyn inserted in the lease he granted to Burbage the following condition:

And further, that it shall or may [be] lawful for the said Gyles and for his wife and family, upon lawful request therefor made to the said James Burbage, his executors or assigns, to enter or come into the premises, and there in some one of the upper rooms to have such convenient place to sit or stand to see such plays as shall be there played, freely without anything therefor paying.[65]

[Footnote 63: One cannot be absolutely sure, yet the whole history of early playhouses indicates that the Theatre was polygonal (or circular) in shape. The only reason for suspecting that it might have been square, doubtfully presented by T.S. Graves in "The Shape of the First London Theatre" (The South Atlantic Quarterly, July, 1914), seems to me to deserve no serious consideration.]

[Footnote 64: Quoted by W.B. Rye, England as Seen by Foreigners, p. 88.]

[Footnote 65: Wallace, op. cit., p. 177.]

The stage was a platform, projecting into the yard, with a tiring-house at the rear, and a balcony overhead. The details of the stage, no doubt, were subject to alteration as experience suggested, for its materials were of wood, and histrionic and dramatic art were both undergoing rapid development.[66] The furnishings and decorations, as in the case of modern playhouses, seem to have been ornate. Thus T[homas] W[hite], in A Sermon Preached at Pawles Crosse, on Sunday the Thirde of November, 1577, exclaims: "Behold the sumptuous Theatre houses, a continual monument of London's prodigality"; John Stockwood, in A Sermon Preached at Paules Cross, 1578, refers to it as "the gorgeous playing place erected in the Fields"; and Gabriel Harvey could think of no more appropriate epithet for it than "painted"—"painted theatres," "painted stage."

[Footnote 66: There is no reason whatever to suppose, with Ordish, Mantzius, Lawrence, and others, that the stage of the Theatre was removable; for although the building was frequently used by fencers, tumblers, etc., it was never, so far as I can discover, used for animal-baiting.]

The building was doubtless used for dramatic performances in the autumn of 1576, although it was not completed until later; John Grigges, one of the carpenters, deposed that Burbage and Brayne "finished the same with the help of the profits that grew by plays used there before it was fully finished."[67] Access to the playhouse was had chiefly by way of Finsbury Field and a passage made by Burbage through the brick wall mentioned in the lease.[68]

[Footnote 67: Wallace, op. cit., p. 135.]

[Footnote 68: For depositions to this effect see Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines, I, 350 ff.]

The terms under which the owners let it to the actors were simple: the actors retained as their share the pennies paid at the outer doors for general admission, and the proprietors received as their share the money paid for seats or standings in the galleries.[69] Cuthbert Burbage states in 1635: "The players that lived in those first times had only the profits arising from the doors, but now the players receive all the comings in at the doors to themselves, and half the galleries."[70]

[Footnote 69: I suspect that the same terms were made with the actors by the proprietors of the inn-playhouses.]

[Footnote 70: Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines, I, 317.]

Before the expiration of two years, or in the early summer of 1578, Burbage and Brayne began to quarrel about the division of the money which fell to their share. Brayne apparently thought that he should at once be indemnified for all the money he had expended on the playhouse in excess of Burbage; and he accused Burbage of "indirect dealing"—there were even whispers of "a secret key" to the "common box" in which the money was kept.[71] Finally they agreed to "submit themselves to the order and arbitrament of certain persons for the pacification thereof," and together they went to the shop of a notary public to sign a bond agreeing to abide by the decision of the arbitrators. There they "fell a reasoning together," in the course of which Brayne asserted that he had disbursed in the Theatre "three times at the least as much more as the sum then disbursed by the said James Burbage." In the end Brayne unwisely hinted at "ill dealing" on the part of Burbage, whereupon "Burbage did there strike him with his fist, and so they went together by the ears, in so much," says the notary, "that this deponent could hardly part them." After they were parted, they signed a bond of L200 to abide by the decision of the arbitrators. The arbitrators, John Hill and Richard Turnor, "men of great honesty and credit," held their sessions "in the Temple church," whither they summoned witnesses. Finally, on July 12, 1578, after "having thoroughly heard" both sides, they awarded that the profits from the Theatre should be used first to pay the debts upon the building, then to pay Brayne the money he had expended in excess of Burbage, and thereafter to be shared "in divident equally between them."[72] These conditions, however, were not observed, and the failure to observe them led to much subsequent discord.

[Footnote 71: Wallace, op. cit., pp. 142, 148.]

[Footnote 72: For the history of this quarrel, and for other details of the award see Wallace, op. cit., pp. 102, 119, 138, 142, 143, 148, 152.]

The arbitrators also decided that "if occasion should move them [Burbage and Brayne] to borrow any sum of money for the payment of their debts owing for any necessary use and thing concerning the said Theatre, that then the said James Burbage and the said John Brayne should join in pawning or mortgageing of their estate and interest of and in the same."[73] An occasion for borrowing money soon arose. So on September 26, 1579, the two partners mortgaged the Theatre to John Hide for the sum of L125 8s. 11d. At the end of a year, by non-payment, they forfeited the mortgage, and the legal title to the property passed to Hide. It seems, however, that because of some special clause in the mortgage Hide was unable to expel Burbage and Brayne, or to dispose of the property to others. Hence he took no steps to seize the Theatre; but he constantly annoyed the occupants by arrest and otherwise. This unfortunate transference of the title to Hide was the cause of serious quarreling between the Burbages and the Braynes, and finally led to much litigation.

[Footnote 73: Wallace, op. cit., p. 103.]

In 1582 a more immediate disaster threatened the owners of the Theatre. One Edmund Peckham laid claim to the land on which the playhouse had been built, and brought suit against Alleyn for recovery. More than that, Peckham tried to take actual possession of the playhouse, so that Burbage "was fain to find men at his own charge to keep the possession thereof from the said Peckham and his servants," and was even "once in danger of his own life by keeping possession thereof." As a result of this state of affairs, Burbage "was much disturbed and troubled in his possession of the Theatre, and could not quietly and peaceably enjoy the same. And therefore the players forsook the said Theatre, to his great loss."[74] In order to reimburse himself in some measure for this loss Burbage retained L30 of the rental due to Alleyn. The act led to a bitter quarrel with Alleyn, and figured conspicuously in the subsequent litigation that came near overwhelming the Theatre.

[Footnote 74: See Wallace, op. cit., pp. 201, 239, 240, 242.]

In 1585 Burbage, having spent the stipulated L200 in repairing and rebuilding the tenements on the premises, sought to renew the lease, according to the original agreement, for the extended period of twenty-one years. On November 20, 1585, he engaged three skilled workmen to view the buildings and estimate the sum he had disbursed in improvements. They signed a formal statement to the effect that in their opinion at least L220 had been thus expended on the premises. Burbage then "tendered unto the said Alleyn a new lease devised by his counsel, ready written and engrossed, with labels and wax thereunto affixed, agreeable to the covenant." But Alleyn refused to sign the document. He maintained that the new lease was not a verbatim copy of the old lease, that L200 had not been expended on the buildings, and that Burbage was a bad tenant and owed him rent. In reality, Alleyn wanted to extort a larger rental than L14 for the property, which had greatly increased in value.

On July 18, 1586, Burbage engaged six men, all expert laborers, to view the buildings again and estimate the cost of the improvements. They expressed the opinion in writing that Burbage had expended at least L240 in developing the property.[75] Still Alleyn refused to sign an extension of the lease. His conduct must have been very exasperating to the owner of the Theatre. Cuthbert Burbage tells us that his father "did often in gentle manner solicit and require the said Gyles Alleyn for making a new lease of the said premises according to the purporte and effect of the said covenant." But invariably Alleyn found some excuse for delay.

[Footnote 75: Wallace, op. cit., pp. 229, 234, 228, 233.]

The death of Brayne, in August, 1586, led John Hide, who by reason of the defaulted mortgage was legally the owner of the Theatre, to redouble his efforts to collect his debt. He "gave it out in speech that he had set over and assigned the said lease and bonds to one George Clough, his ... father-in-law (but in truth he did not so)," and "the said Clough, his father-in-law, did go about to put the said defendant [Burbage] out of the Theatre, or at least did threaten to put him out." As we have seen, there was a clause in the mortgage which prevented Hide from ejecting Burbage;[76] yet Clough was able to make so much trouble, "divers and sundry times" visiting the Theatre, that at last Burbage undertook to settle the debt out of the profits of the playhouse. As Robert Myles deposed in 1592, Burbage allowed the widow of Brayne for "a certain time to take and receive the one-half of the profits of the galleries of the said Theatre ... then on a sudden he would not suffer her to receive any more of the profits there, saying that he must take and receive all till he had paid the debts. And then she was constrained, as his servant, to gather the money and to deliver it unto him."[77]

[Footnote 76: Wallace, op. cit., p. 55.]

[Footnote 77: Ibid., p. 105.]

For some reason, however, the debt was not settled, and Hide continued his futile demands. Several times Burbage offered to pay the sum in full if the title of the Theatre were made over to his son Cuthbert Burbage; and Brayne's widow made similar offers in an endeavor to gain the entire property for herself. But Hide, who seems to have been an honest man, always declared that since Burbage and Brayne "did jointly mortgage it unto him" he was honor-bound to assign the property back to Burbage and the widow of Brayne jointly. So matters stood for a while.

At last, however, in 1589, Hide declared that "since he had forborne his money so long, he could do it no more, so as they that came first should have it of him." Thereupon Cuthbert Burbage came bringing not only the money in hand, but also a letter from his master and patron, Walter Cape, gentleman usher to the Lord High Treasurer, requesting Hide to make over the Theatre to Cuthbert, and promising in return to assist Hide with the Lord Treasurer when occasion arose. Under this pressure, Hide accepted full payment of his mortgage, and made over the title of the property to Cuthbert Burbage. Thus Brayne's widow was legally excluded from any share in the ownership of the Theatre. Myles deposed, in 1592, that henceforth Burbage "would not suffer her to meddle in the premises, but thrust her out of all."

This led at once to a suit, in which Robert Myles acted for the widow. He received an order from the Court of Chancery in her favor, and armed with this, and accompanied by two other persons, he came on November 16, 1590, to Burbage's "dwelling house near the Theatre," called to the door Cuthbert Burbage, and in "rude and exclamable sort" demanded "the moiety of the said Theatre." James Burbage "being within the house, hearing a noise at the door, went to the door, and there found his son, the said Cuthbert, and the said Myles speaking loud together." Words were bandied, until finally Burbage, "dared by the same Myles with great threats and words that he would do this and could do that," lost his temper, and threatened to beat Myles off the ground.[78]

[Footnote 78: Wallace, op. cit., pp. 57, 60, 62.]

Next the widow, attended by Robert Myles and others, visited the home of the Burbages "to require them to perform the said award" of the court. They were met by James Burbage's wife, who "charged them to go out of her grounds, or else she would make her son break their knaves' heads." Aroused by this noise, "James Burbage, her husband, looking out a window upon them, called the complainant [Widow Brayne] murdering whore, and ... the others villaines, rascals, and knaves." And when Mistress Brayne spoke of the order of the court, "he cryed unto her, 'Go, go. A cart, a cart for you! I will obey no such order, nor I care not for any such orders, and therefore it were best for you and your companions to be packing betimes, for if my son [Cuthbert] come he will thump you hence!'" Just then Cuthbert did "come home, and in very hot sort bid them get thence, or else he would set them forwards, saying 'I care for no such order. The Chancery shall not give away what I have paid for.'" And so, after "great and horrible oathes" by James Burbage and his son, the widow and her attendants "went their ways."[79]

[Footnote 79: Ibid., p. 121.]

Receiving thus no satisfaction from these visits to the home of James Burbage, the widow and Robert Myles came several times to the Theatre, bearing the order of the court in their hands; but each time they were railed upon and driven out. Finally, the widow, with her ever-faithful adjutant Robert Myles, his son Ralph, and his business partner, Nicholas Bishop, went "to the Theatre upon a play-day to stand at the door that goeth up to the galleries of the said Theatre to take and receive for the use of the said Margaret half of the money that should be given to come up into the said gallery." In the Theatre they were met by Richard Burbage, then about nineteen years old, and his mother, who "fell upon the said Robert Myles and beat him with a broom staff, calling him murdering knave." When Myles's partner, Bishop, ventured to protest at this contemptuous treatment of the order of the court, "the said Richard Burbage," so Bishop deposed, "scornfully and disdainfully playing with this deponent's nose, said that if he dealt in the matter, he would beat him also, and did challenge the field of him at that time." One of the actors then coming in, John Alleyn—brother of the immortal Edward Alleyn—"found the foresaid Richard Burbage, the youngest son of the said James Burbage, there with a broom staff in his hand; of whom when this deponent Alleyn asked what stir was there, he answered in laughing phrase how they came for a moiety, 'But,' quod he (holding up the said broom staff) 'I have, I think, delivered him a moiety with this, and sent them packing.'" Alleyn thereupon warned the Burbages that Myles could bring an action of assault and battery against them. "'Tush,' quod the father, 'no, I warrant you; but where my son hath now beat him hence, my sons, if they will be ruled by me, shall at their next coming provide charged pistols, with powder and hempseed, to shoot them in the legs.'"[80]

[Footnote 80: Wallace, op. cit., pp. 63, 97, 100, 101, 114.]

But if the Burbages could laugh at the efforts of Myles and the widow to secure a moiety of the Theatre from Cuthbert, they were seriously troubled by the continued refusal of Gyles Alleyn to renew the lease. James Burbage many times urged his landlord to fulfill the original agreement, but in vain. At last, Alleyn, "according to his own will and discretion, did cause a draft of a lease to be drawn, wherein were inserted many unreasonable covenants." The new conditions imposed by Alleyn were: (1) that Burbage should pay a rental of L24 instead of L14 a year; (2) that he should use the Theatre as a place for acting for only five years after the expiration of the original twenty-one-year lease, and should then convert the building to other uses; (3) that he should ultimately leave the building in the possession of Alleyn.[81] The first and third conditions, though unjust, Burbage was willing to accept, but the second condition—that he should cease to use the Theatre for plays—he "utterly refused" to consider.

[Footnote 81: See Wallace, op. cit., pp. 195, 212, 216, 250, 258, et al.]

Finally, perceiving that it was useless to deal further with Alleyn, he made plans to secure a new playhouse in the district of Blackfriars, a district which, although within the city walls, was not under the jurisdiction of the city authorities. He purchased there the old Blackfriars refectory for L600, and then at great expense made the refectory into a playhouse. But certain influential noblemen and others living near by protested against this, and the Privy Council ordered that the building should not be used as a public playhouse. All this belongs mainly to the history of the Second Blackfriars Playhouse, and for further details the reader is referred to the chapter dealing with that theatre.

Shortly after the order of the Privy Council cited above, Burbage died, just two months before the expiration of his lease from Alleyn; and the Theatre with all its troubles passed to his son Cuthbert. By every means in his power Cuthbert sought to induce Alleyn to renew the lease: "Your said subject was thereof possessed, and being so possessed, your said servant did often require the said Alleyn and Sara his wife to make unto him the said new lease of the premises, according to the agreement of the said indenture." Cuthbert's importunity in the matter is clearly set forth in a deposition by Henry Johnson, one of Alleyn's tenants. It was Alleyn's custom to come to London at each of the four pay terms of the year, and stop at the George Inn in Shoreditch to receive his rents; and on such occasions Johnson often observed Cuthbert's entreaties with Alleyn. In his deposition he says that he "knoweth that the said complainant [Cuthbert Burbage] hath many times labored and entreated the defendant [Gyles Alleyn] to make him a new lease of the premises in question, for this deponent sayeth that many times when the defendant hath come up to London to receive his rents, he, this deponent, hath been with him paying him certain rent; and then he hath seen the plaintiff with his landlord, paying his rent likewise; and then, finding opportunity, the plaintiff would be intreating the defendant to make him a new lease of the premises in question; and sayeth that it is at least three years since [i.e., in 1597] he, this deponent, first heard the plaintiff labor and entreat the defendant for a new lease."[82] Cuthbert tells us that Alleyn did not positively refuse to renew the lease, "but for some causes, which he feigned, did defer the same from time to time, but yet gave hope to your subject, and affirmed that he would make him such a lease."[83]

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