Swan Theatre

Definition

Theater

  • An Elizabethan playhouse, the fourth built in London; it openedin 1595 despite opposition from the Lord Mayor. The theater was situatedon Bankside and named after the swans on the Thames. resting on abrick foundation, it was constructed of wooden pillars with flint-and-mortarwork between. The interior was sketched by a visiting Dutch studentin 1596 and a copy of this drawing is the only contemporary depictionof an Elizabethan theater known to survive. It reveals a large raisedplatform stage and three galleries running round the building.

    The Swan had no permanent company. Pembroke's Menwere the first to lease the theater, but in 1597 a performance ofthe "seditious comedy" The Isle of Dogs by BenJonson and Thomas Nashe led to the suspension of stage performancesfor several months. The venue also hosted sports, exhibitions, andother entertainments, such as a contest of wit and versification in1598. Plays were again halted in 1602 when the interior was wreckedby the audience after Richard Vennar was arrested just before presentinghis spectacular play England's Joy.

    Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside was presentedat the Swan in 1611. Lady Elizabeth's Men performed therefrom 1612 until 1614, when they moved to Philip Henslowe's HopeTheatre, which was modelled on the Swan. The success of thisnew venue was the Swan's death blow. Prize fights took over after1621 and according to a contemporary pamphlet it thereafter dwindled"like a dying Swanne".

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