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Elizabethan Theatre Facts



There were three different types of venues for Elizabethan plays: Inn-yards, Open air Amphitheatres and Playhouses.

The Inn-yards were the original venues of plays and many were converted into Playhouses.

The Amphitheatres were generally used during the Summer months and then the Acting Troupes moved to the indoor playhouses during the Winter Season.


  • Inn-yards: The early days of Elizabethan commercial theatre. Performances held in private London Inns. Inexpensive. Held indoors or the yard. Audience capacity up to 500

  • Open Air Amphitheaters: Think of a public outdoor structure like the Coliseum or a small football stadium with a capacity of between 1500 and 3000 people

  • Indoor Playhouses: Facts - A small, private indoor hall. Open to anyone who would pay but more expensive with more select audiences. Audience capacity up to 500

Facts about the Structure and Design of the Elizabethan amphitheatres
The exact dimensions of the amphitheatres have been lost in time, however, the picture of the Swan allows for an approximation. 

  • Amphitheatre facts: Open arena - the actors would also get wet if it rained!

  • Size of amphitheatre: Up to 100 feet in diameter

  • Varying Shapes : Octagonal, circular in shape having between 8 and 24 sides

  • Building materials: Timber, nails, stone (flint), plaster and thatched roofs. Later amphitheatres had tiled roofs

  • Building Duration: 6 months

  • Overall design: The open air arena, called the 'pit' or the 'yard', had a raised stage at one end and was surrounded by three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies overlooking the back of the stage. The stage projected halfway into the 'pit'

  • Audience Capacity: 1500 plus. Up to 3000 people would flock to Theatre and its grounds

  • The Grounds of Theatre: Bustling with people. Stalls selling merchandise and refreshments. Attracted non playgoers to the market

  • Toilet Facilities: None . People relieved themselves outside. Sewage was buried in pits or disposed of in the River Thames. All theatres closed during outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague - disease would have spread via the rats & fleas

  • The Entrance to Theater: Usually one main entrance. Some later theatres had external staircases to access the galleries

  • The 'Box ': Playgoers put 1 penny in a box at Theatre entrance

  • Access to the Balconies & Galleries: Two sets of stairs, either side if Theater. The first gallery would cost another penny in the box which was held by a collector at the front of the stairs. The second gallery would cost another penny

  • The 'Box Office': At the start of the play the admission collectors put the boxes in a room backstage - the box office. 

  • The 'Housekeepers': The owners of Theatre

  • The interior design: Design was similar but far smaller version (1500 -3000 crowd capacity) than the Coliseum of the Roman period (50,000 crowd capacity) allowing the maximum number if playgoers in the space available

  • Lighting: Natural lighting as plays were produced in the afternoon. However there was some artificial lighting mainly intended to provide atmosphere for night scenes

  • Heating: There was no heating. Plays were performed in the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter

  • Stage dimensions: Varying from 20 foot wide 15 foot deep to 45 feet to 30 feet

  • The height of the stage: A raised stage - 3 to 5 feet and supported by large pillars or trestles

  • The floor of the Stage: Made of wood, sometimes covered with rushes. Trap doors would enable some special effects e.g. smoke

  • The rear of the Stage: A roofed house-like structure was at the rear of the stage, supported by two large columns (pillars) 

  • The 'Herculean' columns or pillars : The 'Herculean' pillars were made of huge, single tree trunks. These were drilled through the centre to eliminate warping of the wood

  • The 'Heavens' - a roof area: The pillars supported a roof called the 'Heavens'

  • The 'Heavens': The 'Heavens' served to create an area hidden from the audience. This area provided a place for actors to hide. A selection of ropes & rigging would allow for special effects, such as flying or dramatic entries

  • The stage wall called the 'Frons Scenae' taken from Latin

  • Behind the pillars was the stage wall. A doorway to the left and right and a curtained central doorway from which the actors made their entrances. Above the door area was a highly decorative screen called the 'Frons Scenae' (taken from the name given by Imperial Rome to the stage walls of their amphitheatres)

  • The Stage Gallery above the Stage Wall - The ' Lord's rooms'.

  • The stage wall called the 'Frons Scenae' taken from Latin. Behind the pillars was the stage wall, covered by a curtain. Above the curtain was a highly decorative screen. The 'Frons Scenae' was the name given by Imperial Rome to the stage walls of their amphitheatres

  • The Balcony above the Stage Wall - The ' Lord's rooms' Immediately above stage wall was a balcony that was used either by actors (Juliet's balcony) or the rich the nobility - known as 'Lord's rooms.'

  • The 'Lord's rooms': Considered the best seats in the 'house' despite the poor view of the back of the actors. The audience would have a good view of the Lords. And the Lords were able to hear the actors clearly. The cost was 5 pence & cushioned seats were provided

  • Musicians: Music was an extra effect added in the 1600's. The musicians would also reside in the Lords rooms

  • The 'Gentlemen's rooms': There were additional balconies on the left and right of the 'lord's rooms' which were called the 'Gentlemen's rooms. For rich patrons of Theater - the cost was 4 pence & cushioned seats were provided

  • The 'Tiring House': The stage wall contained at least two doors which lead to a leading to small structure, back stage, called the 'Tiring House'. The stage wall was covered by a curtain. The actors used this area to change their attire

  • The 'Hut': Above the 'Tiring House' was a small house-like structure called the 'hut' complete with roof. Used as covered storage space for the troupe

  • Elizabethan advertising: Above the hut was a small tower with a flag pole. Flags were erected on the day of the performance displaying a picture advertising the next play to be performed. (See the top picture of the Globe)

  • The 'pit' (also referred to as the 'yard'): The stage projected halfway into the 'pit', also called the 'yard' (if tiled or cobbled) where the commoners (groundlings) paid 1 penny to stand to watch the play. They would have crowded around the 3 sides of the stage.

  • Groundlings: Commoners who paid 1 penny admission to stand to watch the play

  • 'Stinkards': During the height of the summer the groundlings were also referred to as 'stinkards' for obvious reasons

  • Access to the Galleries: Two sets of stairs, either side if Theater. The stairways could also be external to the main structure to give maximum seating space

  • Seats in the galleries - Three levels: The seats in each of the three levels of galleries were tiered with three rows of wooden benches, increasing in size towards the back, following the shape of the building. The galleries were covered affording some shelter from the elements.

There were many play venues in and around London. Click on the links for details of each venue. To fully appreciate the proximity of the locations please click Locations & Descriptions of Elizabethan Theatres.. The names , dates and locations of Elizabethan Theaters, Playhouses and City Inns are as follows:

Facts about Amphitheaters

1576: The Theatre, Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London
1576: Newington Butts, Southwark, Surrey
1577: The Curtain, Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London
1587: The Rose, Bankside, Surrey
1595: The Swan, Paris Garden, Surrey (See Top Picture)
1599: The Globe, Bankside, Surrey
1600: The Fortune, Golding Lane, Clerkenwell
1600: The Boar's Head, Whitechapel, London
1604: The Red Bull, Clerkenwell
1576: The Bear Garden Bankside, Surrey
1576: The Bull Ring Bankside, Surrey
1614: The Hope Bankside, Surrey

 Facts about Play Houses

1576: Paul's, St. Paul's Cathedral precinct, London 
1576: The Blackfriars, Blackfriars, London (the first)
1596: The Blackfriars, London, (the second) 
1616: The Cockpit, Drury Lane, Westminster, London 
1629: Salisbury Court, London
1576: Gray's Inn Theatre, London
1573: Middle Temple Inn Theatre, London
1576: Whitehall Theatre, London
1606: Whitefriars, London

Facts about Inn-yards

1576 - 1594: The Bull Inn, London 
1576 - 1594: The Bell Savage, London 
1576 - 1594: The Cross Keys, London 
1576 - 1594: The Bell, London 
1576 - 1594: The White Hart, London
1576 - 1594: The George Inn Theatre

For more information, details and facts about the Elizabethan Theatre please click the following links

Elizabethan Theatre Locations - Descriptions of all London Theaters including Swan, Rose,
Bear Garden, Cockpit, Hope, Curtain Theaters
Elizabethan Theatres - Theaters, Amphitheatres, playhouses and Inn-yards
in London with names, pictures and descriptions
Elizabethan Playwrights and Authors - Plays and Books by Christopher Marlowe,
Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton and Kyd
Elizabethan Acting Troupes who visited Stratford
Lord Strange's, Leicester's, Essex's, Berkeley's and Worcester's men
Visiting the New Globe Theater - a London vacation
Site Map
Shakespeare Biography
Globe Theater

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