English theater, a dozen arena-shaped theaters from the time of the Roman Empire and six stage theaters still preserved today (including that of Verulamium in today’s Saint Albans) are the oldest evidence of theatrical activity in England.
The spectacle culture of the Roman Empire was formative early on: gladiatorial and animal fights, mime, pantomime, political and cultic ceremonies and military demonstrations. Traveling body artists and minstrels of the Middle Ages enriched village and aristocratic festivals. The traditions in which they stood are elusive today in terms of sources.
According to harvardshoes.com, the tendency to visualize and visualize the Christian salvation event brought about a theatrical embodiment of the trope of the Easter liturgy of the visit of the three Marys at the tomb of Jesus Christ. About the course of these early forms of the Easter game around 960 it was recorded in the rules of the order (“Regularis Concordia”) of the Benedictines from Winchester that the “Quem quaeritis?” sequence (“Who are you looking for?”) is shown by three deacons as a symbolically dramatized scene of the nightly resurrection celebration. In the expansion, also described in the rules of the order, with motifs from the youth run and the gardening scene, the reception of folk comedy and seasonal fertility rites can also be seen. The influence of old French games (»Adam«, »La Seinte Resurreccion«) as a result of the Norman conquest (1066), the English game templates in the transition from Latin to the vernacular and the relocation of performances from the church to town squares had an effect from the late 14th century the formation of processional games on Corpus Christi day, the so-called mystery cycles, among others. of York (48 scenes, 1 performance day), Wakefield (32 scenes of the “Towneley cycle”, 1 performance day) and Chester (24 scenes, performed over three days of the week of Pentecost). Organized by the city administration, professional guilds reinforced by professional actors performed the more than 11,000 lines of plays from Creation to Judgment Day with a focus on the passion story. Liturgical play elements alternated with brutal realism and crude comedy. The scenes of many cycles took place on wagon stages (“Pageants”) that stopped at certain stations in the city. Performances on fixed stages (“scaffolds”) are also known, for example the Mystery Cycles in Clerkenwell (belonging to London) in the late 14th century, which lasted 3 to 7 days. The three-day Cornwall Mystery Cycles (“Ordinalia”) took place in “Rounds”, amphitheater-like embankments, of which the Perran Round (Perranzabuloe) still exists. Moralities were also strengthenedstaged, which dealt with the struggle between divine on the one hand and negative forces on the other for the soul of the individual. Popular game templates were “Everyman” (first print of the game text between 1510 and 1525) and “Castle of Perseverance” (text from the 15th century), which lavishly staged a castle tower and the bed of mankind in the middle of a “round” was set, on the periphery the scaffolding for God, the world, the devil, flesh and covetousness. The English Reformation and the prohibition of Corpus Christi in 1548 brought an end to all religious games; An effective propaganda theater against the Pope and abroad could only be developed later from the argumentative dramaturgy of morality and its splendid form of staging.
Theater in the entertainment district
From the early 16th century onwards, performances in universities and Latin schools accompanied the reading of Plautus and Terence on simple stages with hanging material. Theatrical cabaret and farces with a variety of themes as interludeswere presented in taverns and village squares as well as in the palace hall of Hampton Court or in London’s Middle Temple Hall for lawyers. Large theatrical forms formed tournaments, parades and monarchical ceremonies as well as Robin Hood, St. Georges and season games. The wealth of themes and modes of presentation of secular and remote religious games led to the emergence of a new, institutionalized theater. This development was promoted by the compulsion for theater troupes to be reorganized and subject to the patronage of nobles (1572), a tightened ban on playing in the cities (1574) and the construction of theaters. The carpenter James Burbage (* 1530, † 1597) built “The Theater” in north London in 1576. The architectural borrowings for the polygonal half-timbered building with three galleries and an open inner courtyard, into which the stage protruded far, came from animal arenas and inn courtyards. The successful mixed program of theater, animal fighting and fencing competitions resulted in another theater building – “The Curtain” – being built in 1577. In 1587 P. Henslowe invested in the “Rose Playhouse”, the first theater on Bankside south of the Thames. Like the theater squares in the north, which were leased by the Crown as a former church or monastery property, it evaded the jurisdiction of the puritan city authorities, which were hostile to theater. C. Marlowe wrote dramas for the theater troupe “Admiral’s Men” at the “Rose Playhouse”, whose protagonists were presented with grand gestures by Edward Alleyn (* 1566, † 1626) in the sense of unrestricted power madness. The theater of the “Rose Playhouse” and the “Swan” (built in 1595) had to compete with attractions in the surrounding entertainment district with animal fights, playhouses, inns and brothels. The boys’ troops of choirs from the Chapel Royal and the St. Paul Latin School, who performed with song and dance in a hall of the former Blackfriars monastery, were particularly popular with the wealthy public and the aristocracy. In 1598, R. Burbage had “The Theater” torn down due to lease disputes and renamed “Globe” on the Bankside.rebuild. After the fire in 1613, a new building was built again. The “Chamberlain’s Men” theater troupe played the “Globe”, whose author and co-owner was W. Shakespeare. For a mixed audience who watched the theatrical performance standing in the courtyard and was therefore referred to as “groundlings”, up to aristocrats in places near the stage, the revenge dramas, Love tragedies, historical plays, romances and comedies of the English world theater (Elizabethan drama) are shown. With the English comedians, the drama and acting art of this time also reached continental Europe.
In contrast to the actor’s theater on Bankside, the court sponsored the musical costume spectacle Masque, which was formed from the welcoming customs of masked people and, with the participation of the royal family, offered an allegorical battle of positive and negative forces. When I. Jones furnished “The Masque of Blackness” in 1605, he introduced the perspective transformation stage in England with knowledge of the stage techniques of the Italian Renaissance. The neo-classical Banqueting Hall in the Palace of Whitehall, where most of the masques took place, goes back to his design. The game templates often came from the playwright B. Jonson. The courtly theater flourished in splendor of furnishings, the public theater proved to be a profitable economic enterprise for bourgeois speculators. Henslowe built two more theaters (“Fortune”, “Hope”), in addition to numerous short-term theaters, “Cockpit”, “Boar’s Head”, “Red Bull” and “Salisbury Court”, where the so-called City Comedies by T. Dekker survived and T. Middleton, the brutal dramas by J. Webster and the elegant plays by F. Beaumont and J. Fletcher. After the outbreak of civil war, the republican parliament ordered the closure of all theaters in August 1642.