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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: February 2015

4 - The Playhouses



The structure of the playhouses is the most well-trodden subject of all the background aspects of the drama. Consequently precision in identifying playhouse design involves trudging through a morass of mud, with all the lack of confidence and clarity that entails. Playhouse design, being more tangible than other matters, has attracted the most material disputes. It is simpler to argue over fixities like the shape of a stage than such intangible matters as an Elizabethan audience's awareness of itself as a visible presence during a performance in daylight. The discovery in 1989 of some real playhouse remains has added some fixity to what is known, and burrowing into the warren of legal papers has yielded up still more evidence. But the weight of the many footprints planted in this part of the terrain has not altered the muddy nature of most of the evidence.

Evidence about the playhouse structures, however slippery, needs to be kept in some kind of perspective. The playhouses themselves were no more than convenient accessories to the business of playing. Both plays and players operated in London long before any permanent structures were built for the performance of plays. Throughout the Shakespearean era companies retained the capacity at the end of an afternoon's playing to take their plays off to a nobleman's house or to Court and play again there with no more aids to performance than the arena itself and what they could carry to it.