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PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource

Elizabethan Theatres

The Curtain Theatre was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Curtain Close, Shoreditch (part of the modern Borough of Hackney), just outside the City of London. 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, 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 stage did not appear in England till after the Restoration.)

Little is known of the plays performed at the Curtain or of the playing companies that performed there. Its proprietor seems to have been one Henry Lanman, who is described as a "gentleman." In 1585 Lanman made an agreement with the proprietor of the Theatre, James Burbage, to use the Curtain as a supplementary house, or "easer," to the more prestigious older playhouse.

From 1597 to 1599 it became the premiere venue of Shakespeare's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, 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 (which gained "Curtain plaudits") and Henry V. 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's Every Man in His Humour 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. The Lord Chamberlain's Men departed the Curtain when the Globe, which they built to replace the Theatre, was ready for use (1599).


As far as is known, Lanman ran the Curtain as a private concern for the first phase of its existence; yet at some point the theatre was re-organized into a shareholders' enterprise. Thomas Pope, 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 member John Underwood 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 (formerly known as Worcester's Men, and formerly at the Rose Theatre, where they'd played Heywood's A Woman Kill'd With Kindness in February of that year). In 1607 The Travels of the Three English Brothers, by Rowley, Day, and Wilkins, was performed at the Curtain.

The ultimate fate of the Curtain is obscure. There is no record of it after 1627.

A modern plaque marks its site today, in Hewett Street off Curtain Road.

 

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