- Shakespeare's Two Playhouses: Repertory and Theatre Space at the Globe and the Blackfriars, 1599-1613 by Sarah Dustagheer
From about 1609 onwards, Shakespeare's company The King's Men was in the unique position of having two permanent venues for performance, the outdoor Globe and the indoor Blackfriars. Sarah Dustagheer's book argues that this situation had implications for the company's repertory: they had to offer plays that could work in either venue or, to put it another way, that could variously exploit the different size, lighting, acoustics, audiences, and traditions of each.
Dustagheer's analysis delves into the histories both of the company and of its venues, considering plays performed by the King's Men before they moved to the Blackfriars, and plays performed at the Blackfriars prior to 1609 by the Children of the Queen's Revels. Indeed, in her first chapter she goes further back to consider the Blackfriars precinct as it was before James Burbage built a [End Page 123] playhouse there in 1596: its origins as a Dominican priory, but also its repeated use as a place for royal and parliamentary business, its popularity as a residence for courtiers including Sir Thomas Cawarden, Henry VIII's Master of the Revels, its association with the making and sale of luxury goods, and its adoption as a performance space by the Children of the Chapel Royal in the 1570s. The history of the locale helps explain not only Burbage's initiative, but also the emphasis, in plays staged there later by the Children of the Queen's Revels, on court settings and traditions of court performance (exemplified by John Lyly, whose works they revived): as Dustagheer notes, that company's repertory contains an unusual number of plays that depict masques and other forms of private entertainment, thus giving a paying audience a taste of elite culture. At the outdoor Globe, meanwhile, plays like Julius Caesar and Coriolanus staged public scenes that linked the theatre with the civic life of the ancient world—a style of drama absent from the smaller, indoor, socially exclusive Blackfriars.
In her subsequent chapter, Dustagheer moves from the social to the political and topographical spaces occupied by the Globe and Blackfriars. As a former monastic "liberty," Blackfriars was within the City but not of it, an anomaly that the City eventually overturned in 1608 without fully resolving it. Plays staged there over the preceding years, such as The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Eastward Ho, reflect this ambiguity in their ambivalent treatment of the urban space: detailed in their depiction of London settings, sensitive to problems of authority, but also somewhat derisive of the City's institutions. Globe plays, by contrast, tend to avoid engaging with London directly, instead veiling it under foreign locations ranging from Vienna (Measure for Measure) to Venice (Volpone)—a possible result, as Dustagheer suggests, of that playhouse's Southwark location, both less embattled politically and separated from the City by the expanse of the Thames. With The Alchemist in 1610, however, the King's Men could offer a play that was both staged in the Blackfriars and set there, and Dustagheer shows how Jonson exploits techniques previously used in the same location by the Children of the Queen's Revels: a largely indoor setting, and a blurring of the boundary between audience and action.
As well as occupying different locations, the Globe and the Blackfriars were very different theatrical spaces. Shakespeare exploited the large, open-air nature of the former when scripting the loud sounds of thunder and of battle, effects that were avoided by dramatists writing for the more intimate Blackfriars. The smaller playhouse, by contrast, enabled more subtle forms of musicality, as did the long-standing association of the Children (whose origins were, after all, as choristers) with a range of musicians. Fittingly for Dustagheer's argument, The Tempest, a play written after the King's Men began performing at the Blackfriars, uses both types of effect, beginning with...