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The Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Shoreditchmarker (in Curtain Road, part of the modern London Borough of Hackneymarker), just outside the City of Londonmarker. It was the second permanent theatre ever built in Englandmarker, after the Red Lionmarker, and the first successful one. Built by actor-manager James Burbage, near the family home in Holywell Street, The Theatre is considered the first theatre built in London for the sole purpose of theatrical productions. The Theatre's history includes a number of important acting troupes including the Lord Chamberlain's Men which employed Shakespeare as actor and playwright. After a dispute with the landlord, the theatre was dismantled and the timbers used in the construction of the Globe Theatremarker on Banksidemarker.

On 6 August 2008, archaeologists from the Museum of Londonmarker excavating in New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch announced that they had found the foundation of a polygonal structure which they believe to be the remains of the north-eastern corner of The Theatre. The site is to be used to build a new theatre for the Tower Theatre Company.


The Theatre was constructed in 1576 by James Burbage in partnership with his brother-in-law John Brayne on property that had originally been the grounds of the dissolved priory of Halliwell (or Holywell). The location of The Theatre was in Shoreditch, beyond the northern boundary of the City of London and thus outside the jurisdiction of civil authorities who were often opposed to the theatre. This area in the "suburbs of sin" was notorious for licentious behaviour, brothels and gaming houses, and a year later another theatre called The Curtainmarker was built nearby, making the area London's first theatrical and entertainment district.

The design of The Theatre was possibly adapted from the inn-yards that had served as playing spaces for actors and/or bear baiting pits. The building was a polygonal wooden building with three galleries that surrounded an open yard. From one side of the polygon extended a thrust stage. The Theatre is said to have cost £700 to construct, a considerable sum for the age.

The open yard in front of the stage was cobbled and provided standing room for those paying a penny. For another penny, the audience were allowed into the galleries where they could either stand or, for a third penny, procure a stool. One of the galleries, though sources do not state which, was divided into small compartments that could be used by the wealthy and aristocrats.

The Theatre opened in the autumn of 1576, possibly as a venue for Leicester's Men, the acting company of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester of which James Burbage was a member. In the 1580s the Admiral's Men, of which James Burbage's son, Richard was a member, took up residence. After a disagreement between the company and young Burbage, most of the company left for the Rose Theatremarker which was under the management of Philip Henslowe.

In 1594, Richard Burbage became the leading actor of the Lord Chamberlain's Men which performed at The Theatre until 1597. Poet, playwright and actor William Shakespeare was also in the employ of the Company and some of his early plays, possibly including an early version of Hamlet (the so-called Ur-Hamlet) had their première at The Theatre.

Towards the end of 1596, problems arose with the property's landlord, Giles Allen. Consequently, in 1597, the Lord Chamberlain's Men were forced to stop playing at the Theatre and moved to the nearby Curtainmarker. The lease, which had been granted to Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage upon the death of their father, expired the following year. The sight of the deserted Theatre prompted these lines from a minor satirist of the day:
But see yonder,

One like the unfrequented Theatre

Walks in dark silence and vast solitude.

This state of affairs forced the Burbage brothers to take drastic action to save their investment. In defiance of the landlord and with the help of their friend and financial backer William Smith, chief carpenter Peter Street and ten or twelve workmen, they dismantled the theatre on the night of 28 December 1598 and moved the structure piecemeal to Street's yard near to Bridewell. With the onset of more favourable weather in the following spring, the material was ferried over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globemarker.

See also



  • De Young, J. and Miller, J. (1998) London Theatre Walks, New York: Applause Books.
  • Gabriel Egan (2005), Platonism and bathos in Shakespeare and other early modern drama accessed 13 November 2006.
  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642. Third edition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The Oxford Companion to the Theatre. 4th edition. London: Oxford UP, 1983. p. 964.
  • Moreton, W. H. C. (1976) "Shakespeare came to Shoreditch" LBH Library Services Text accessed 10 November 2006.
  • Mullaney, S. (1988) The Place of the Stage: Licence, Play and Power in Renaissance England. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Schoenbaum, S. (1987) William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. Oxford University Press.
  • Thomson, Peter. "The Theatre". in Banham, Martin, ed. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, London: Cambridge UP, 1992.

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