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Illustration of London in the late 16th, early 17th century


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In 1592, Shakespeare was working in London and had gained a reputation as an actor and a writer. Another dramatist at this time, Robert Greene, was envious of Shakespeare and called him 'an upstart crow'.

In Shakespeare's time, London was the only place where there were buildings designed specifically for performing plays. The public theatres were tall, mostly circular buildings, open to the sky, with a cover over part of the stage and a roof around the edge to protect the galleries.

Performances took place in the afternoons; all the women's parts were performed by boys. The audience either stood around the stage or sat in the galleries.

Shakespeares's early playwriting was interrupted by the plague in London when theatres were closed by the authorities. At this time (1593), Shakespeare wrote his two narrative poems 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of Lucrece'. These were both dedicated to the Earl of Southampton who became Shakespeare's patron. It is thought that Shakespeare also wrote most of his Sonnets at this time, (there were 154) although they were not published until 1609.

In 1594 Shakespeare was back in the theatre and joined 'The Lord Chamberlain's Men' who performed at 'The Theatre' in Shoreditch. Their main rivals were 'The Admiral's Men' who performed at Philip Henslowe's Rose Theatre.

'The Lord Chamberlain's Men' included the actor Richard Burbage, son of 'The Theatre' proprietor, James Burbage. When James Burbage died in 1597 his other son, Cuthbert moved 'The Theatre' to a site south of the Thames where it was re-named 'The Globe'.

One of the first plays performed at The Globe was Shakespeare's Henry V (in the prologue of the play The Theatre is described as a wooden 'O').

In 1613 'The Globe' burned down during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry VIII, but was rebuilt in 1614. It was eventually demolished in 1644. No pictures of The Globe survive, but it is widely thought that it was a half-timbered, five-sided building (not a perfect 'O') with a thatched roof above the galleries.

The galleries had wooden benches to sit on, but it cost twopence (1p) for a seat and only one penny (0.5p) to stand in the yard. The theatre could house up to 3000 people.

16th Jun 2005 by Abdallah Abdullah

English, Geography, History

Key Stages:
Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

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