All of the Elizabethan London theatres, or amphitheatres, were similar in design, so the picture of the Swan Theatre can be used a good guide to the structure and layout of these first purpose-built theatres. The exact dimensions of the amphitheatres have been lost in time, but the picture of the Swan allows for an approximation. The Swan was built by Francis Langley and opened in 1595.
The Diary note of Johannes de Witt on the Swan Theatre
From diary of the Elizabethan traveller, Johannes de Witt:
"There are four amphitheatres in London so beautiful that they are worth a visit, which are given different names from their different signs. In these theatres, a different play is offered to the public every day. The two more excellent of these are situated on the other side of the Thames, towards the South, and they are called the Rose and the Swan from their signboards. There are two other theatres outside the city towards the North, on the road that leads through the Episcopal Gate called Bishopsgate in the vernacular. There is also a fifth, but of a different structure, intended for fights of animals, in which many bears, bulls, and dogs of stupendous size are held in different cages and behind fences, which are kept for the fight to provide a most pleasant spectacle to the people. The most outstanding of all the theatres, however, and the largest, is that whose sign is the swan (in the vernacular, the theatre of the swan), as it seats 3000 people. It is built out of flint stones stacked on top of each other (of which there is great store in Britain), supported by wooden pillars which, by their painted marble colour, can deceive even the most acute observers. As its form seems to bear the appearance of a Roman work, I have made a drawing of it"
Description of The Theatre amphitheatre
The Swan was described as an Elizabethan Amphitheatre which was octagonal or circular in shape having between 8 and 24 sides. The open air arena of the amphitheatre was called the 'pit' or the 'yard'. The stage of the amphitheatre projected halfway into the 'pit'. The Swan had a raised stage at one end which was surrounded by three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies overlooking the back of the stage.
Facts and Information about the Amphitheatre styled Elizabethan Theatres
Interesting general facts and information about the amphitheatre venue such as the Swan:
- Audience capacity of an Elizabethan amphitheatre was between 1500 and 3000
- Building materials used in the construction of early Elizabethan Theatres were timber, nails, stone (flint), plaster with thatched roofs