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London Playhouses and Other Sites

The actors of Shakespeare's time performed plays in many locations: the great halls of royal residences, the halls at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and at the Inns of Court, and the private houses of great lords and civic officials. Sometimes acting companies toured the provinces, where plays might be staged in churches (until around 1600) or guildhalls. London inns were important playing places until the 1590s.

London theaters began to be built just before Shakespeare wrote his first plays in the 1590s. They included outdoor, public playhouses and indoor, private theaters for much smaller audiences. The Theatre, usually considered the first London public playhouse, was built north of London in 1576 by James Burbage, the father of the famous actor Richard Burbage, who was in Shakespeare's company.

Other public playhouses included the Curtain and the Fortune, also north of London, and the Rose, the Swan, the Globe, and the Hope, all on the Bankside just across the Thames south of London. Playhouses were built outside the city of London because many civic officials were hostile to the performance of drama.

In 1598, Shakespeare's acting company was threatened by difficulties in renewing the lease on the land occupied by the Theatre, its first theater. The company dismantled the building and transported its timbers across the Thames to the Bankside, where the timbers were used to build a new theater, the Globe. The company began playing at the Globe in 1599. The Globe burned down in 1613, but was immediately rebuilt. Archaeologists have excavated portions of this second Globe and of the Rose.

Continue ... Inside the Theaters

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare editions, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2005 Folger Shakespeare Library
Claes Jansz. Visscher. London. ca. 1625 (Detail).

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