Elizabethan Theatres: 20 Important Resources

Elizabethan Theatres

The Elizabethan era (1558–1603) witnessed the emergence of the first permanent theatre buildings in England. Notable among these was “The Theatre,” built in 1576 by James Burbage. These buildings were typically constructed with timbre, featured thatched roofs, and incorporated an open-air ‘pit’ or ‘yard’ surrounded by tiered galleries. The most famous Elizabethan theatre, the Globe, erected in 1599, epitomised this design. The stage projected into the audience area, facilitating a more intimate interaction between actors and spectators, a distinct characteristic of Elizabethan theatres.

Elizabethan theatres were ingeniously designed to accommodate a diverse audience, ranging from the groundlings in the pit, who stood to watch the play, to the wealthier audience members who occupied the covered galleries. The theatres were open to the elements, with performances held in daylight, and the stage area often included a roofed section known as the ‘heavens’, which provided shelter and facilitated stage effects. The back of the stage housed a curtained area used for indoor scenes, while the balcony above was utilised for scenes requiring an elevated space. The theatre buildings themselves, with their thrust stages, were instruments that contributed significantly to the storytelling, allowing playwrights like Shakespeare to create dynamic and immersive experiences.

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Here are 20 resources on Elizabethan theatres from across the web, each with a carefully written descriptor. Have you ever wondered what the theatre of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries looked like? Read on!

  • World History Encyclopedia: Discusses the rise of Elizabethan Theatres, including London’s first permanent theatre in 1576, royal patronage, and evolving play themes.
  • Playhouses | Shakespeare’s Globe: Details the two types of Elizabethan playhouses, from the first Red Lion playhouse in 1567 to the iconic Globe Theatre.
  • Elizabethan England Life: Describes Elizabethan playhouses, focusing on the small, well-designed Salisbury Court playhouse popular among nobles.
Elizabethan Theatres The Globe
  • London Pass: Offers ten fascinating facts about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, including its historical significance, architectural uniqueness, reconstruction, and theatrical experiences.
  • Elizabethan Theatres and Playhouses – Lit-galaxy: Examines Elizabethan theatres and playhouses as entertainment hubs, also exploring the origins of English drama in church-related religious rituals.
  • Britannica – Whitefriars Theatre: Discusses the history of Whitefriars Theatre, a private London playhouse established in 1606 in the Whitefriars monastery, converted by Michael Drayton and Thomas Woodford, possibly influenced by the earlier transformation of the Blackfriars.
Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatres

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  • Elizabethan Playhouses: Explores Elizabethan playhouses’ indoor design, highlighting cost differences with public theatres, and details like seating and candle lighting.
  • English History: Discusses The Globe Theatre and the shift of theatres to London’s south side due to Puritan opposition to stage plays.
  • Britannica – Fortune Theatre: Describes the Fortune Theatre, built in 1600 to rival The Globe, as a square structure with an unpainted timber and a statue of the goddess Fortune.
  • William Shakespeare Info: Traces the evolution of Elizabethan theatre venues from inn-yards to playhouses, underscoring their role in showcasing Shakespeare’s works.
Welcome to our wooden 'O' | Shakespeare's Globe
  • Play Shakespeare: Highlights ‘The Theatre’ in Shoreditch, the first London theatre built for theatrical productions, established by James Burbage, with historical context on Elizabethan purpose-built playhouses.
  • Theatre – Elizabethan, Stage, Design | Britannica: Offers information, categorizing Elizabethan stage under broader theatre building and design.
  • Building Design: Details the Shakespeare North Playhouse as a modern structure inspired by Tudor and Jacobean drama.
  • Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatres: Examines Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres’ architecture, reflecting societal norms and theatrical needs of the time, providing historical insight into theatre evolution.
The Globe Theatre
Credit: David Welch | Flickr
  • Elizabethan Playhouses: Historic England’s article focuses on preserving The Theatre and The Hope as significant Elizabethan playhouses, highlighting their historical value, connections to Shakespeare and Marlowe, and insights from archaeological remains.
  • Elizabethan Playhouses, Actors, and Audiences: Provides a concise history of Elizabethan playhouses, their emergence due to drama’s rising popularity, and their role in showcasing playwrights and actors.
  • English Renaissance Theatre: Offers a comprehensive overview of English Renaissance theatre, including the Elizabethan era, its historical context, theatre architecture evolution, notable playwrights, and societal impact.
  • Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama: Venues: This page from Luminarium provides a comprehensive overview of the venues where Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas were performed. It discusses the evolution of playhouses, their design, and how they catered to the different social classes of the time.
  • Elizabethan Era: Outlines the evolution of Elizabethan playhouses from inn-yard performances to purpose-built theatres, drawing inspiration from Ancient Roman and Greek amphitheatres and describes their structure.
Shakespeare's Globe Theater - Tour, History, and Features

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