Curtain Theatre

Curtain Theatre

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The Curtain Theatre was an Elizabethan  playhouse located in Curtain Close, Shoreditch
Shoreditch is an area of London within the London Borough of Hackney in England. It is a built-up part of the inner city immediately to the north of the City of London, located east-northeast of Charing Cross.-Etymology:...

 (part of the modern London Borough of Hackney
London Borough of Hackney
The London Borough of Hackney is a London borough of North/North East London, and forms part of inner London. The local authority is Hackney London Borough Council....

), just outside the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

. It opened in 1577, and continued staging plays until 1622.

The Curtain was built some 200 yards south of London's first playhouse, The Theatre
The Theatre
The Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Shoreditch , just outside the City of London. It was the second permanent theatre ever built in England, after the Red Lion, and the first successful one...

, which had opened a year before, in 1576. It was called the "Curtain" because it was located near a plot of land called Curtain Close, not because it had the sort of front curtain associated with modern theatres. Elizabethan theatres had small curtained enclosures at the back of their stages; but the large front-curtained Proscenium
A proscenium theatre is a theatre space whose primary feature is a large frame or arch , which is located at or near the front of the stage...

 stage did not appear in England until after the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...



Little is known of the plays performed at the Curtain or of the playing companies that performed there. Henry Lanman appears to have been its proprietor, who is described as a "gentleman." In 1585, Lanman made an agreement with the proprietor of the Theatre, James Burbage
James Burbage
James Burbage was an English actor, theatre impresario, and theatre builder in the English Renaissance theatre. He built The Theatre, the facility famous as the first permanent dedicated theatre built in England since Roman times...

, to use the Curtain as a supplementary house, or "easer," to the more prestigious older playhouse.

From 1597 to 1599, it became the premier venue of Shakespeare's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

, who had been forced to leave their former playing space at The Theatre after the latter closed in 1596. It was the venue of several of Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

(which gained "Curtain plaudits") and Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

. In this latter play the somewhat undistinguished Curtain gains immortal fame by being described by Shakespeare as "this wooden O." The Lord Chamberlain's Men also performed Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's Every Man in His Humour
Every Man in His Humour
Every Man in His Humour is a 1598 play by the English playwright Ben Jonson. The play belongs to the subgenre of the "humours comedy," in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession.-Performance and Publication:...

here in 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast. Later that same year Jonson gained a certain notoriety by killing actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel in nearby Hoxton Fields
Hoxton is an area in the London Borough of Hackney, immediately north of the financial district of the City of London. The area of Hoxton is bordered by Regent's Canal on the north side, Wharf Road and City Road on the west, Old Street on the south, and Kingsland Road on the east.Hoxton is also a...

. The Lord Chamberlain's Men departed the Curtain when the Globe
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

, which they built to replace the Theatre, was ready for use (1599).

The London theatres, including the Curtain, were closed from 1592-1594 due to the Bubonic plague according to Alchin in his complete works on Shakespeare.

As far as is known, Lanman ran the Curtain as a private concern for the first phase of its existence; He died in 1592 and it is assumed by Edmund Chambers that the theatre had been re-arranged into a shareholder’s enterprise before his death at some point. Thomas Pope
Thomas Pope (16th-century actor)
Thomas Pope was an Elizabethan actor, a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men and a colleague of William Shakespeare. Pope was a "comedian and acrobat."-Beginnings:...

, one of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, owned a share in the Curtain and left it to his heirs in his last will and testament in 1603. King's Men
King's Men (playing company)
The King's Men was the company of actors to which William Shakespeare belonged through most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became The King's Men in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.The...

 member John Underwood
John Underwood (actor)
John Underwood was an early 17th century actor, a member of the King's Men, the company of William Shakespeare.-Career:Underwood began as a boy player with the Children of the Chapel, and was cast in that company's productions of Ben Jonson's Cynthia's Revels and The Poetaster...

 did the same in 1624. The fact that both of these shareholders belonged to Shakespeare's company may indicate that the re-organization of the Curtain occurred when the Lord Chamberlain's Men were acting there.

In 1603, the Curtain became the playhouse of Queen Anne's Men
Queen Anne's Men
Queen Anne's Men was a playing company, or troupe of actors, in Jacobean era London. -Formation:...

 (formerly known as Worcester's Men
Worcester's Men
The Earl of Worcester's Men was an acting company in Renaissance England. An early formation of the company, wearing the livery of William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester, is among the companies known to have toured the country in the mid-sixteenth century...

, and formerly at the Rose Theatre, where they'd played Heywood's
Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood was a prominent English playwright, actor, and author whose peak period of activity falls between late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre.-Early years:...

 A Woman Kill'd With Kindness in February of that year). In 1607, The Travels of the Three English Brothers, by Rowley
William Rowley
William Rowley was an English Jacobean dramatist, best known for works written in collaboration with more successful writers. His date of birth is estimated to have been c. 1585; he was buried on 11 February 1626...

, Day
John Day (dramatist)
John Day was an English dramatist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.-Life:He was born at Cawston, Norfolk, and educated at Ely. He became a sizar of Caius College, Cambridge, in 1592, but was expelled in the next year for stealing a book...

, and Wilkins
George Wilkins
George Wilkins was an English dramatist and pamphleteer best known for his probable collaboration with Shakespeare on the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre. By profession he was an inn-keeper, but he was also apparently involved in criminal activities.-Life:Wilkins was an inn-keeper in Cow-Cross,...

, was performed at the Curtain.

Burbage’s pooling agreement had run out in 1592, therefore he was no longer part of the Curtain. The Curtain had been in use from 1577 until 1622 after which its ultimate fate of is obscure as there is no record of it after 1627. A plaque marks its site today, at 18 Hewett Street off Curtain Road.

Suggestions have been made stating that the Curtain had dealt with financial problems, especially during Shakespeare’s stay there. This notion was probably evoked by John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love wherein scenes int. al. demonstrate that Henslow, the Curtain’s proprietor in the movie, was being threatened to pay off his debts for otherwise the Curtain would be closed down. Nevertheless, there is at first no such documentation of possible financial issues of the Curtain found yet.

J. Leeds Barroll focuses in Shakespeare studies: An annual gathering of Research, Criticism and Reviews on the fact that Henry Lanman had offered the Curtain as an easer to James Burbage, proprietor of the Theatre. Thereby, he assumes that Lanman’s business, the Curtain, must have been doing as well as Burbage’s business, the Theatre, since both, Lanman and Burbage, had agreed on a pooling arrangement for seven years in 1585, to pool profits. Otherwise, it would be very unwise of Burbage to pool profits if he did better in the first place. Thus, the suggestion is given that both proprietors were doing equal business.

Even though the Curtain was closed after 1622 without any clear causes, the issue of financial problems cannot be addressed to that event without evidence.

The Curtain Theatre features in the film Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love is a 1998 British-American comedy film directed by John Madden and written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard....


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