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  • Cited by 8
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: May 2010

2 - Blackfriars, music and masque: theatrical contexts of the last plays

Summary

In 1948 Gerald Eades Bentley was confident that one of the most important events in the affairs of the King's Men, and one that 'influenced decidedly the dramatic compositions of Shakespeare', was the acquisition of the Blackfriars playhouse in 1608. He was certain that all Shakespeare's plays from Cymbeline onwards were composed specifically with the indoor theatre in mind, and aimed at 'the sophisticated audience attracted to that house'. It would, at first sight, seem entirely likely that the adoption of a new performance space might have exercised an important influence on the way Shakespeare wrote, but exactly how and to what extent is far from self-evident. James Burbage originally took over two properties in the former Blackfriars priory in 1596 to provide winter accommodation for his theatre company, the Chamberlain's Men. He constructed a galleried playhouse of some 66 by 46 feet, and if his plans had gone ahead, Andrew Gurr conjectures, 'the Globe might never have been built, and London playing would have moved indoors far earlier than it did'. In the event, protests by the inhabitants of the area against the noise and inconvenience of the presence of actors and audiences persuaded the Privy Council to prevent him from performing in his new theatre. Instead it was leased to one of the children's companies which performed much less frequently than the adult companies, and so, presumably, were tolerable to the easily antagonised neighbours.

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