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Mystery Plays Early theatre in England was religious. Theatre became a popular form of teaching the Bible and Christianity to ordinary people. These were called the Mystery Plays. Small companies moved from town to town performing stories from the bible, performing on pageant wagons in town squares or in the grounds of churches.
Mystery Plays Pageant Wagons arriving in Brussels for a festival of theatre and performance.
Secular Drama All religious drama in England was suppressed as a result of the Reformation. In the 1530s the court of Henry VIII was opulent and extravagant. Henry saw entertainment as a vital way to impress his courtiers and foreign kings. The Court employed jesters and musicians for entertainment and small companies of actors took on the livery of an aristocratic patron.
The First Playhouses By the 1570s purpose-built playhouses started appearing in London as secular drama began to predominate. In 1576 Britain’s first playhouse ‘The Theatre’ was built by Leicester’s Men in Finsbury Fields. This was outside the city walls as the City of London was hostile to public performances.
The First Playhouses Many new theatre’s were built using the this design. The most famous was The Globe. However, there was one theatre that was built indoors in Blackfriars. This attracted a very up-market crowd.
The First Playhouses London, 1616. The South Bank was outside the control of the city, so a number of different theatres opened as they were beyond the control of the cities authorities.
Elizabethan Theatre In the late 16th century theatres were popular with everyone and their audiences had a voracious appetite for new plays. New companies flourished and writers were employed to satisfy the demand for novelty.
Elizabethan Theatre Companies were hierarchical - actors who had a stake in the company were called ‘sharers’ and divided up the profit between them; ‘hirelings’ were just paid a weekly wage, whilst the boys who played women’s roles were ‘apprentices’ and paid very little. Actors specialised in specific roles which they performed as part of their repertoire.