Picture of the Globe Theatre

Elizabethan Theatres

  • Interesting Facts and information about Elizabethan Theatres
  • People and events in Elizabethan Theatres
  • The Inn-Yards, Playhouses and Amphitheatres, like the Globe provided the venues for Elizabethan Theatrical productions

Picture of the Globe Theatre


Elizabethan Theatres

Elizabethan Theatres
The Elizabethan Theatres started in the cobbled courtyards of Inns - they were called Inn-yards. As many as 500 people would attend play performances. There was clearly some considerable profit to be made in theatrical productions. James Burbage was an actor, who at one time would have played in the Inn-yards and, no doubt , negotiated a high price with the Inn keeper to perform on his premises.


It was the idea of James Burbage to construct the first purpose-built theatre - it was called 'The Theatre'. It was based on the style of the old Greek and Roman open-air amphitheatres. 'The Theatre' was to be the first of many Elizabethan Theatres. However, profit dropped in the winter as people would not venture to the cold open arenas of these massive Elizabethan Theatres. Playhouses were therefore used for many winter productions. Many of the playhouses were converted from the old coaching inns or other existing buildings - all productions were staged in the comparative warmth of these indoor Elizabethan Theatres. Most people associated Elizabethan Theatres with those built in a similar style to the Globe Theatre - the massive Amphitheatres.


Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Theatres
Some interesting facts and information about Elizabethan Theatres

Elizabethan Theatre facts
The Amphitheatres were designed as an open arena

Size of Elizabethan Theatre: Up to 100 feet in diameter.
Shapes of Elizabethan Theatre: Octagonal or circular in shape having between 8 and 24 sides.
Building materials used in the construction of Elizabethan Theatres: Timber, nails, stone (flint), plaster and thatched roofs. Later
amphitheatres had tiled roofs.
Building Duration: 6 months.
Overall design of the Elizabethan Theatre: The open air arena of the amphitheatre was called the 'pit' or the 'yard'. The stage of the amphitheatre projected halfway into the 'pit'. It had a raised stage at one end which was surrounded by three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies overlooking the back of the stage.


Audience Capacity: 1500 - 3000.

Elizabethan Inn-Yards

Bull Inn

Bell Savage Inn

Cross Keys Inn

Bell Inn

White Hart Inn

George Inn


The Grounds of the theatre: Bustling with people. Stalls selling merchandise and refreshments.
Toilet Facilities: None . People relieved themselves outside. Sewage was buried in pits or disposed of in the River Thames. All theatres closed during outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague - disease would have spread via the rats & fleas.
The Entrance to the theatre: Usually one main entrance. Some later theatres had external staircases to access the galleries.


Elizabethan Playhouses

Paul's Playhouse

Blackfriars Playhouse

The Cockpit

Salisbury Court Playhouse

Gray's Inn Theatre Playhouse

Whitehall Playhouse Theatre

Whitefriars Theatre Playhouse

Middle Temple Inn Theatre Playhouse

The 'Box ' and the 'Box Office': Playgoers put 1 penny in a box at the Elizabethan theatre entrance. At the start of the play the admission collectors put the boxes in a room backstage - the box office. 
Access to the Balconies & Galleries:
Two sets of stairs, either side if the theater. The first gallery would cost another penny in the box which was held by a collector at the front of the stairs. The second gallery would cost another penny.

The 'Housekeepers': The owners of the theatre.
Lighting in the Elizabethan Theatre: Natural lighting as plays were produced in the afternoon. However there was some artificial lighting mainly intended to provide atmosphere for night scenes.
Heating in the Elizabethan Theatre: There was no heating. Plays were performed in the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter.
Stage dimensions: Varying from 20 foot wide 15 foot deep to 45 feet to 30 feet.

The height of the stage: A raised stage - 3 to 5 feet and supported by large pillars or trestles.
The floor of the Stage: Made of wood, sometimes covered with rushes. Trap doors would enable some special effects e.g. smoke in the Elizabethan Theatre.
The rear of the Stage: A roofed house-like structure was at the rear of the stage, supported by two large columns (pillars).
The 'Heavens': The 'Heavens' served to create an area hidden from the audience. This area provided a place for actors to hide. A selection of ropes & rigging would allow for special effects, such as flying or dramatic entries.
Musicians: Music was an extra effect added in the 1600's.
The 'pit' (also referred to as the 'yard'): The stage projected halfway into the 'pit', also called the 'yard' (if tiled or cobbled) where the commoners (groundlings) paid 1 penny to stand to watch the play.
Groundlings: Commoners who paid 1 penny admission to stand to watch the play.
During the height of the summer the groundlings were also referred to as 'stinkards' for obvious reasons.
Access to the Galleries: Two sets of stairs, either side of the Elizabethan Theatre. The stairways could also be external to the main structure to give maximum seating space.


Seats in the galleries - Three levels: The seats in each of the three levels of galleries were tiered with three rows of wooden benches, increasing in size towards the back, following the shape of the building. The galleries in Elizabethan Theatre were covered affording some shelter from the elements.

The Globe Theatre

Globe Theatre History

Globe Theatre Facts

Globe Theatre Interior

Globe Theatre Design and Structure

Sites and Map of London Elizabethan Theatres

Elizabethan Theatres
Details, facts and information about each of the major Elizabethan Theatres.


Queen Elizabeth's Coat of Arms


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Elizabethan Theatres


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