New Perspectives on Urban Entertainment in the Middle Ages

29th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mary Erler, London Performance Spaces before the Commercial Playhouses: Theatre before the Theatre

What we know of London drama before the building of the Red Lion theatre in 1567 is frustratingly obscure, since very few texts survive.  But of course there was a great deal of theatrical activity in these years.  The evidence of dramatic events occurring up and down Aldersgate Street, a main north/south artery into and out of London, and in the vicinity of St. Botolph’s church, suggests the existence of a lively range of theatre with its roots in the parish, and reveals some of its forms: fundraisers in the churchyard, commercial productions in Trinity Hall nearby owned by the parish fraternity, a pretence play in a private house when a local entrepreneur collected admissions, then locked the audience in the house and departed, and finally, street theatre in the form of a fake miracle, a supernatural voice endorsing Elizabeth rather than Mary.  Throughout this neighborhood, not only the street, but a variety of small spaces intended primarily for other uses offered theatre as an element of ordinary life—a perspective that would chance with the erection of a larger, dedicated, commercial buildings.

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