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4'4 LETTERS IN CANADA 1979 Herbert Berry, editor. The First Public Playhouse: The Theatre in Shoreditch, ' 576- 1598 McGill-Queen's University Press. xi, 139, illus. $9.95 The phrase 'Shakespeare's theatre' will to most people suggest the Globe, but, as Richard Hosley points out in this book, Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant o[Venice, and King John were all probably first staged in the Theatre, the building which set the style for the permanent commercial playhouses of Elizabethan and Stuart London. A great deal of documentation to do with the Theatre survives, and has been widely available since C.W. Wallace published it in 1913, yet very little detailed historical work has been done since then, surprising in a period of careful research and reinterpretation of our knowledge of the Shakespearean stage. This book redresses the neglect of the Theatre. The essays contained in it were originally seminar papers given at the World Shakespeare Congress in Washington, and they provide a range of suggestions about the building. On the level of hard evidence, for the serious scholar Herbert Berry provides an invaluable 'Handlist of Documents: carefully annotated and splendidly summarized. Berry's work on the Boar's Head playhouse has shown him to be both an indefatigable searcher of manuscript material and a careful and sceptical interpreter of it. He has discovered several documents unknown to Wallace, and suggests that there may be more to find for the scholar armed with patience and luck. To the general reader Berry's descriptions and summaries of the evidence show why, despite the volume of documentation, the Theatre has been so little studied: the quarrels over leases and shares in property recorded in the litigation tell us desperately little about the building itself. Despite the lack of precise information - on the size of the stage and galleries, for example - cautious conjecture is valuable. Because the Globe was built from the timbers of the Theatre, one can work backwards from the later playhouse. Since Burbage's lease specified that he could remove the playhouse from the site, which in due course he did, and since a large share of the cost of building the place went on ironwork, Berry makes the interesting suggestion that the Theatre was not built with the usual wooden joints, but with metal bolts and brackets, to facilitate taking it apart, if need be. Glynne Wickham casts doubts on the presence of 'huts' with flying machinery at the Theatre, a suggestion which I think is correct, and which deserves a more general consideration in the context of all the public playhouses. Oscar Brownstein challenges the usual association made by historians between animal-baiting rings and theatres, and Hosley suggests another possible model for a large circular ring of galleries which English builders would know about in 1576. (JOHN H. ASTINGTON) ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
p. 414
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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