James Burbage built the first Elizabethan amphitheatre in 1576 following the huge success of the plays performed in the Elizabethan Inn yards. The 'Theatre' was built in a similar style to a Roman arena, or amphitheatre, but on a smaller scale. James Burbage was keen to cash in on the profits made by the plays being performed in Elizabethan Inn yards. The biggest of the Inn-yards had a maximum capacity of 500 people the Elizabethan amphitheatre was designed to hold a capacity of up to 3000 people! Similar amphitheatres were built to house blood sports, such as bear beating at the 'Bear Garden' and Bull Beating at the 'Bull Ring'. These massive places of entertainment would have proved daunting prospects for their builders. The plans of James Burbage and his idea of constructing an amphitheatre were highly ambitious. He had his skills of a carpenter to help him but expert help was clearly required. He knew just the man - Dr. John Dee!
Building an Elizabethan Amphitheatre - Speed was the essence!
Building the Elizabethan Amphitheatres was all about profit. The design of the London Elizabethan Amphitheatres, was guaranteed to house as many playgoers as was possible in a cheap, but impressive, looking building. Elizabethan amphitheatres were built with timber, stone (flint) and plaster. An Elizabethan amphitheatre only took about six months to build! The profit margin of the fixed venue theatres of Elizabethan amphitheatres increased more than five-fold with the greater audience capacities. Profit also increased as the acting troupes no longer had to spend their time travelling, erecting and dismantling stages and all of the associated expenses which would have been incurred with the inn-yards and paying the inn-keepers. Elizabethan amphitheatres made good business sense.
The Elizabethan Amphitheatre - 'Legitimising' the Elizabethan Theatre
James Burbage wanted to enhance the tarnished reputation of the Elizabethan theatre and its actors. Dr. John Dee clearly helped him to achieve this goal. Building The Theatre in the style of the ancient amphitheatre provided the opportunity to draw strong comparisons with the classical Greek theatre thus providing a means to 'legitimise' the Elizabethan theatre! The Roman Amphitheatre design was therefore perceived as an excellent idea. Not only did this make perfect financial sense but it also linked the Elizabethan theatre of the Renaissance period with the much admired classical theatre and literature of the Greeks and Romans. The Elizabethan playwrights, such as Christopher Marlowe, continued this theme by producing Tragedies and Comedies of a similar genre. William Shakespeare himself drew on the history of the ancients in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The huge popularity of the Roman Amphitheatre was about to be repeated many hundreds of years later in Renaissance England!
The Classical Connections with the Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The classical theme of the Elizabethan amphitheatre continued and various sections within the interior of the amphitheatres were labelled with Latin names taken from the Roman theatre:
- The ' Herculean ' pillars, strongly featured in the interiors designs of the Elizabethan amphitheatres, were painted so that they appeared to be made of marble
- The Elizabethan stage wall was called the Frons Scenae and decorated with classical Greek and Roman images
So the innovative theatrical entrepreneurs who built the Elizabethan amphitheatres used classical Greek and Roman history to create a clever and specific image for their theatres.
Elizabethan Amphitheatre in London
The Elizabethan amphitheatre which entertained the people in London included The Theatre, Newington Butts, the Curtain, the Rose, the Swan, the Fortune, The Boars Head, the Red Bull, the Bear Garden, the Bull Ring, the Hope and, of course the Globe Theatre.
The history of the Elizabethan Amphitheatre clearly started with the construction of The Theatre in 1576 by the Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur James Burbage. Additional details, facts and information about the Elizabethan Theatre can be accessed via the Globe Theatre Sitemap.