Part 2 on where Shakespeare’s plays were acted. Part 1 is here
Firstly, and least importantly, MY DAD got really annoyed that I hadn’t mentioned he came with me when I went to visit some of the sites, so I mentioning it now. Hiya! *waves*
The Indoor Playhouse on Bankside
This is what the Sam Wanamaker playhouse is recreating (I don’t have any interior shots because I haven’t been round it yet. Largely because they haven’t put on any Shakespeare yet – it’s all Jacobean tragedy and I can’t be doing with the blood…)
In 1608 the King’s Men (the troupe which Shakespeare was a part-owner of) took over the Blackfriar’s indoor theatre – it had been built some time before but legal issues prevented them from performing there. After 1608, they performed indoors during the winter (seven months, and twice as financially successful) and the Globe during the summer. The indoor setting allowed Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends “in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt.” I really can’t wait to see Cymbeline…
That bit in Shakespeare in Love where they do a play at court is totally based on reality you know. The monarch really could – and did – summon companies of actor to perform at court for them. Which must have been a hell of a lot easier for the monarch in question than having to go to the West End for the Royal Variety Performance…
The first example we have good evidence for is Christmas 1594, when Richard Burbage was summoned with two other members of his company, William Kempe and William Shakespeare, to act before the queen at Greenwich Palace. They weren’t paid until March 1595, which shows that government has always been terrible at paying its suppliers on time, but good at maintaining records – the Treasurer’s Account for 1595 is one of the few remaining sources which allow us to pin down performances with any certainty (apart from when they set fire to theatres – see previous post…).
The royal connection continued after Elizabeth’s death – in 1603 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men received a patent from James I and become the King’s Men. The King’s Men performed seven of Shakespeare’s plays at court between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice.
Of course, “at court” was a rather vague description in those which could encompass Greenwich Palace, Richmond Palace, St James’ Palace, Somerset House and Whitehall. We know for sure that The Tempest had its first performance at Whitehall Palace in 1611. Otherwise it’s hard to know for certain what may have been performed where – again, the only thing we really know with certitude is that (with the exception of St James’ which isn’t open to the public), none of the locations where plays would have been performed survive today.
Richmond Palace gatehouse (all that’s left) complete with plaque…
The monarch wasn’t the only person who could hire acting troupes – in 1602 Twelfth Night was put on at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court. When I strolled past, the lucky lawyers were enjoying a champagne bar outside Middle Temple Hall, which is still there – if anyone fancies a trip they run a tour (with tea, coffee and biscuits) for a very reasonable £11 a head, as long as you’re a group of ten or more.
And ironically, there’s absolutely no evidence that any of Shakespeare’s plays were performed in Stratford in his lifetime – the first purpose-built theatre in Stratford was a temporary wooden affair built in 1769 by the actor David Garrick. Now, of course, there are three theatres and an entire dedicated theatre company…