Cockpit Theatre

Definition

Theater

  • A theater in Drury Lane, London, originally built for cockfightingin 1609. Christopher Beeston turned it into a private theaterin 1616 by adding a roof and renovating the interior. His companyplanned to move there in 1617, but the Cockpit was destroyed by firewhen apprentices on a riotous Shrove Tuesday spree set it ablaze.

    Beeston rebuilt the venue and renamed it the Phoenix, subsequentlyleasing it to several companies, including in 1635 the strolling playersof the French actor Floridor. Beeston's own company of boy actors,Beeston's Boys, moved into the theater following his death in 1638.During the Puritan Interregnum the theater staged illegalperformances and was raided by soldiers in 1649. William Davenant,however, won official approval to stage 'plays with music', such asThe Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and Sir FrancisDrake (1659).

    On the Restoration the theater was reopened by John Rhodes,a former prompter at Blackfriars Theatre who had been appointed Keeperof the Cockpit in 1644. His small company included Thomas Bettertonand other young players who later became famous, but his licence waswithdrawn after one year when the patent theaters came intobeing. Thereafter the theater lost audiences to the new Drury Lane.It closed in 1665.

    There was also a private Cockpit-in-Court theaterin Whitehall, so called because it was converted from a cockpit inabout 1604. The King's Men (see Chamberlain's Men) and other companies performed there for the court and later for the public (until 1664).

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