How and why did the public playhouses come to open in London in the sixteenth century?
Were these playhouses the first purpose-built, regular spaces for performance in Europe since the Roman Empire, and what might this mean?
What happens when we concentrate on the beginnings of playhouses, in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, rather than seeing them as late sixteenth-century phenomena?
We explore these questions through an innovative two-way conversation between archival research and performance workshops exploring the plays of this early period. Working alongside Shakespeare’s Globe and The Dolphin’s Back (specifically devoted to staging forgotten early modern plays), we are rethinking the earliest playhouses of this period to remember how pioneering, unusual, and shocking these spaces were. We will also take advantage of the archaeological remains of the original playhouses, which have been discovered in the last thirty years but remain surprisingly marginal to current scholarly stories about the period. We will thus explore not only new architectural experiments with single playhouse buildings but with the earliest creation of theatre districts.
Before Shakespeare is also the first project to take seriously the mid-century beginnings of those playhouses, seeing them as mid-Tudor and early Elizabethan phenomena rather than becoming distracted by the second generation of people working in the playhouses, the most famous of whom is William Shakespeare himself. The project asks what happens if we privilege instead the beginnings of those playhouses, thinking about them as entrepreneurial, architectural, and creative innovations and considering the changes they brought about in the way people wrote, performed, watched, and (eventually) read plays.
To find out about the people involved, see People and the links under Links & Collaborators in the menu.