Elizabethan Playhouses

A playhouse was a small private indoor hall used for acts open for the public. Playhouses were open for anyone who would pay but the capacity of the audience in a playhouse was up to 500 people. Playhouses were built around similar general plans, and despite differences, all public theatres were about three stories high and built around open spaces. The theatres were usually polygonal in plan to give a round effect for a better view, and three levels of tribunes made room for a lot of people. An upper level behind the stage could be used as a balcony as in Romeo and Juliet that sort of gave an opportunity for an actor to be elevated above the other actors.
The number of playhouses steadily increased since the opening of the first Elizabethan playhouse in 1576. Most famous of all were the Globe built in 1598, were great writers like Shakespeare and Burbage deferred their plays and obtained great glory and so did the Globe. Playhouses were usually built of timber, lath and plaster which made them vulnerable to fire, that happened to the Globe in 1613 which caused that it burned to the ground, but got rebuilt later on with stronger materials such as a new tile roof.
The old Medieval stage of “place- and scaffolds”, was still in use in Scotland in the early sixteenth century. The booth stage was the dominant stage in England in 1575. The booth stage was a small rectangular stage mounted on barrels and “open” in the sense of being surrounded by spectators on three sides.

First Blackfriars, by Effie W. Best
First Blackfriars, by Effie W. Best

In the England of 1575 there were to kinds of buildings designed for functions other than acting of plays which was by the players adapted as temporary outdoor playhouses the so-called “game houses” or the animal – baiting rings. A booth stage was normally set up against a wall at one side of the yard with the audience standing and surrounding the stage on three sides. Out of these playhouses, there were two major classes of playhouses, the “private” and “public”. The public theatres were in general outdoor and large, while the private playhouses were particularly smaller and indoors theatres. The private playhouses were found only within the City of London while the public playhouses were in the suburbs.
At the public playhouses the majority of spectators were “groundlings”, they normally stood in the dirt yard for a penny. The higher classes were sitting in boxes and galleries for two pence or more. The private public was also seated and the audience tended to consist of gentlemen.