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Venues on the Verges: London’s Theater Government between 1594 and 1614.


In 1594, major decisions were made by the governors of London and the country about plays and playing. We need to learn what lay behind these events, such as what led James Burbage to build his Blackfriars theater in 1596. That initial fiasco might tell us much about what lay behind Shakespeare’s decision to join the new Chamberlain’s Men in 1594 and his subsequent commitment to them as a full-time playwright. When the Globe burned down in 1613, a majority of the shareholders decided to rebuild it at great cost, but Shakespeare withdrew. The rebuilding was old-fashioned thinking, reverting to the company’s desire, asserted in 1594, to play indoors in winter, which helps to clarify their decisions and Shakespeare’s own—to write plays rather than more long poems. The few surviving papers of the Privy Council and the London mayoralty from the time suggest that one of the two new companies of 1594 preferred to play indoors during the winter instead of at their allocated open playhouses in the suburbs. They tried to renew this traditional practice, first in 1594 and again in 1596 when James Burbage built the indoor Blackfriars playhouse for them. The renewal of the Globe in 1614 was part of the same thinking, although Shakespeare evidently opted out of the decision.

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