Cover Page
A De Witt drawing of the Swan playhouse depicting 3 people on stage with spectators.

The De Witt drawing of the Swan playhouse.

Source: ART Vol. d57, no. 45c, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Shakespeare’s Theatre

A History

Richard Dutton

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For Hollea, who likes books

List of Illustrations

Frontispiece The De Witt drawing of the Swan playhouse. Source: ART Vol. d57, no. 45c, Folger Shakespeare Library.
Figure I.1 Portrait of Edward Alleyn. Source: akg‐images
Figure 2.1 Image of Richard Tarlton (or Tarleton). Source: © British Library Board All Rights Reserved / Bridgeman Images
Figure 2.2 Interior of the Great Tudor Hall at Rufford Old Hall (showing the lower hall, with carved screen). Source: The National Trust Photolibrary / Alamy Stock photo
Figure 2.3 Interior of the Great Tudor Hall at Rufford Old Hall (showing the upper hall, with the high table in place and windowed alcove to the right). Source: The National Trust Photolibrary / Alamy Stock photo
Figure 3.1 Digital reproduction of a page in Philip Henslowe’s Diary. Source: Dulwich College, MS VII f9r, © David Cooper.
Figure 3.2 A Map Showing the Theatres of Shakespeare’s Day. Source: First published in Shakespeare’s Playhouses, by John Quincy Adams (1917)
Figure 3.3 Image of Will Kemp and Companion on the title‐page of Kemp’s Nine Days’ Wonder. Source: PN2598. k6, 1839, Folger Shakespeare Library
Figure 3.4 Diagram of Seating Arrangements in the Great Chamber at Whitehall. Source: College of Arms, MS Vincent 151, pp. 156–7
Figure 3.5 Portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Lord Hunsdon. Source: Berkeley Castle
Figure 6.1 Section of Hollar’s Map Vista, London from the Bankside. Source: Map L85c, No. 29, Part 1, Folger Shakespeare Library
Figure 6.2 Portrait of Nathan Field. Source: Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Images
Figure 6.3 Portrait of Richard Burbage. Source: Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Archive
Figure 6.4 The Image of Robert Armin on the title‐page of The Two Maids of Moreclacke. Source: STC 773 Copy 1, Folger Shakespeare Library

List of Boxes

Box I.1 Swan Drawing
Box I.2 Philip Henslowe
Box 1.1 James Burbage
Box 2.1 Sir Thomas More
Box 2.2 A Postscript to Strange’s Men: Prescot
Box 3.1 Masters of the Revels
Box 3.2 A Day at the Theatre
Box 3.3 “Dramatic” or “Back‐Stage” Plots
Box 3.4 Patronage and its Practices
Box 4.1 Martin Slater and the Children of the King’s Revels
Box 4.2 The Contracts of William Shakespeare and John Heminge
Box 4.3 Augustine Phillips: Shakespeare’s Fellow‐Sharer
Box 4.4 Women in the Theatres
Box 5.1 The Falstaff Issue and the Use of the Blackfriars
Box 5.2 The Jig
Box 6.1 Contentions About The Globe: Size, Audience, Seating on the Stage
Box 7.1 Court Masques


Shakespeare’s Theatre is a narrative history of the playing spaces that Shakespeare wrote for – not just the famous ones, like the Globe and the Blackfriars playhouses, but the country houses, inns, guild halls, Inns of Court and the royal palaces where he knew that his plays would also be performed. It is a history in that it follows a chronological arc, from about the time of his birth in 1564 until his retirement from the stage around 1613/14.

This is to underline the point that there was no single “Elizabethan stage.” The theatrical profession underwent revolutionary change during Shakespeare’s lifetime, developing from forms that were largely based in households of the aristocracy and gentry, academic institutions and royal palaces. Some troupes toured locally and then further afield, advertising the status of their patrons but also becoming increasingly professional. Theatrical venues specifically for them (and also for boy companies from some of the leading choir schools) were built in and around London from the 1570s. Around 1590 companies began to take up residence in these playhouses on a more‐or‐less permanent basis, as London developed a population capable of sustaining daily playing, setting the conditions for the career of a man like Shakespeare.

Acting thus passed from being a largely localized activity, much of it amateur, within a patronage culture; and it became a professionalized business, a proto‐capitalist enterprise within which men (and boys, and even a few women) could build a living for themselves, and a very few become extremely wealthy. But the new never entirely threw off the old. The companies with which we can associate Shakespeare were called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the King’s Men – they had (and had to have) patrons of high, and ultimately the highest, status to succeed as they did. And aspects of this dual nature were visible in virtually every playing space.

Moreover these changes did not happen without resistance. The players had constantly to adapt to live within attempts to limit, control – or even try to eradicate – their activities. This history is largely the story of those adaptations. Like all histories it was never as straightfowarwardly linear as the writing process makes it seem: change happened erratically and at different speeds in different contexts. I shall, therefore, frequently cross‐reference you to other parts of the book, especially to pick up where a minor development in one context became a larger phenomenon in another. Another distinctive feature of my story‐telling is what I have called the Box features. Each of these recounts a story in itself, a significant anecdote within the larger tale – but one with which I did not want to interrupt the narrative flow. So, for example, you will find Box items on Philip Henslowe and on the Masters of the Revels. Henslowe and those Masters of the Revels who censored Shakespeare’s plays (Edmund Tilney and Sir George Buc) figure repeatedly in the through‐narrative and I trust their roles are comprehensible there: you do not need to read the Box items, certainly when you first encounter them. But I hope that your interest will be sufficiently picqued that you will want to read them, at your own time and pace. I think you will find the effort rewarding, giving depth and perspective to the wider tale.

No one writes a book of this nature alone. I have written in the company of many scholars who have scouted the territory before me, and to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude. These include giants of the past, like E. K. Chambers and G. E. Bentley, who compiled and analyzed vast compendia of information on early modern playing – The Elizabethan Stage and The Jacobean and Caroline Stage respectively – on which all subsequent scholarship has been built, even as some of those foundations have begun to show their age. But most of my companions have been people I have been privileged to know and work with in the field of Shakespearean‐era scholarship over the last quarter of a century. Some I have been lucky enough to communicate with in person about this book; others have just inspired me with their writing. Let me mention John Astington, Peter Greenfield, Andrew Gurr, William Ingram, David Kathman, Roslyn Lander Knutson, Sally‐Beth MacLean, Lawrence Manley, Alan Nelson, Tom Postlewait, Tiffany Stern, and William Streitberger. I also owe particular thanks to all other members of the theatre history seminar that miraculously reinvents itself annually at the meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America; I have attended more often than not since 1992 and profited enormously from it. Lastly I must acknowledge a different kind of debt to Emma Bennett, who first gave me the green light to work on this book, longer ago than I care to remember.

Quotations in the book from Shakespeare are normally taken from The Complete Works of Shakespeare edited by David Bevington, 6th edn (New York and London: Pearson Longman, 2009), though I have occasionally needed to draw in unmediated form on the quartos and the First Folio in which they were originally printed. You will find in the Bibliography details of all the editions on which I have drawn for the works of other authors of his era. A word of explanation: wherever a quotation comes from, if it is not already modernized, I have made it so. Most of us know Shakespeare in modernized texts. I do not want to obfuscate the wider picture of his times for the general reader by leaving his contemporaries four hundred years behind. Some terms associated with the playhouses, however, may well still be unfamiliar – “sharer,” “book‐keeper,” “tireman,” etc.; most of them are explained in Chapter 4, “The Chamberlain’s/King’s Men and their Organization.”

The Bibliography is arranged by author and date, allowing you to find full details from a brief citation. Several texts, however, will be quoted so commonly that I have cited them parenthetically in quite distinctive forms. E. K. Chambers’ The Elizabethan Stage is cited simply as ES; English Professional Theatre, 1530–1660, ed. Glynne Wickham, Herbert Berry and William Ingram as EPF; Henslowe’s Diary, edited by R. A. Foakes (2nd edn, 2002) as Henslowe; and Sir Henry Herbert’s office‐book, from The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama, ed. N. W. Bawcutt, as Herbert.

Richard Dutton
January 2017, Croston, Lancashire