The main aspiration of the itinerant companies of actors was to go to London and find a place of their own where they could give regular performances and get regular incomes. This is the reason why for the first time permanent playhouses were built towards the end of the 16th century. They were built in London at the expenses of companies of players who had realised that the capital was the ideal centre for all entertainment. But playhouses had to be located outside the city walls because the Puritan authorities considered them to be centres of corruption and did not allow them to be built under their jurisdiction. These were the first playhouses built in London: The Theatre in 1576, The Rose in 1587, The Swan in 1595, The Globe in 1599.
THE ELIZABETHAN PLAYHOUSE:
The Elizabethan playhouse was circular or polygonal in shape. The stage consisted of a rectangular platform, for this reason sometimes called platform stage. Over the stage the “shadow”, or thatched roof, protected the players from the rain. In the front of the stage there was a “trap door” which led to an area below the stage known as “Hell” which could be used for apparitions and disappearances, and also for burials. The stage projected into the theatre’s central pit. The pit roughly corresponded to the innyards where travelling companies used to act. This area had no roof and no seats and was occupied by spectators who could only pay the basic admission fee of one penny to watch a play and stood throughout the performance. Around the theatre walls, three tiers of galleries provided better and more expensive seats and boxes for the higher social classes.
The stage was surrounded by the audience on three sides. On the fourth side, at the back of the stage, there was a wall which hid a “tiring house”, where the players changed. Two doors provided the access from the tiring house to the stage. Behind the stage there was also an “inner stage” , usually covered by a curtain when not in use, but this space was clearly needed for several plays, for example: for Juliet’s tomb, for a hiding place for Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet. So the inner stage was used not only for discoveries, but also for concealments. There was also an “upper stage” (hidden by a curtain) which could be used when the scene required two actors to stand on two different levels: for instance, in the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. There was also an upmost area normally used by musicians and at last, when a play was in progress, a flag flew above the roof of the theatre showing its emblem.