- Shakespeare's Two Playhouses: Repertory and Theatre Space at the Globe and the Blackfriars, 1599–1613 by Sarah Dustagheer
It has become axiomatic to say that Shakespeare wrote with specific performance conditions in mind, but how did he conceive his company's concurrent use of outdoor and indoor stages? In 1609, after a decade of acting under open skies at the Globe, the King's Men extended their commercial reach to the enclosed auditorium in Blackfriars, the former domain of the Children of the Queen's Revels. G. E. Bentley thought the move marked a shift in company priorities and that Shakespeare tailored his plays thereafter primarily to the architectural dimensions and social atmosphere of the indoor theater. Yet as Roslyn Knutson and others have observed, the King's Men never ceased to act these plays at the Globe, nor indeed at royal palaces or venues farther afield. On this view, economic imperatives, such as the need to control expenditure on costumes and props, shaped a repertory that was versatile by design. In Shakespeare's Two Playhouses, Sarah Dustagheer offers the fullest account to date of Shakespeare's complex relationship with the King's Men's dual-venue operation, and in so doing has produced a highly rewarding study, both for its incisive methodology and its elegant solution to an enduring question.
Dustagheer sides with Knutson in seeing "performance duality" (3) as characteristic of the King's Men's evolving repertory circa 1609–13: by design, Shakespeare's plays during this period were meant to function "in different but parallel ways" at the company's two venues (7). An organizing principle of space is invoked to explain this dynamic interaction, and, drawing on French theories of spatial production and practice, the author conceptualizes the two buildings not merely as physical "containers for the drama" but as "socio-cultural entities and places of the imagination" (3). The book is itself cleverly conceived as a "spatial journey" (11). The first half explores the social and urban spaces surrounding the Globe and Blackfriars that helped to shape their distinct identities; in the second half, readers are led into the theaters themselves, where the spatial practices of dramatists, actors, and audiences are examined in relation to each building's unique assembly of timber, metal, glass, and textiles.
From the early chapters emerges a satisfying explanation for why the two playhouses came to be conceptualized as distinctly "private" and "public" spaces. The Blackfriars was "private" insofar as it was understood to extend the space of the royal court and the spheres of the nobility. Jonson, Marston, and Chapman's [End Page 307] pre-1609 plays for the Revels children reinforce this notion with their sharply delineated courtly and aristocratic environments, densely inset with masques, musical consorts, and other elite pleasures. Another segment of the boys' repertory, attentive to the topography of the City of London and exemplified by plays such as Eastward Ho! and The Knight of the Burning Pestle, models a "poetic geography" (82) that the King's Men would also absorb and replicate, notably in Jonson's Alchemist. Shakespeare, intriguingly, looked to Roman tragedy as he acclimated himself to his company's two houses. In Julius Caesar, believed to be his first play for the more broadly accessible "public" Globe, scenes of stirring oratory hail at once both the fictional Roman crowd onstage and the real amphitheater audience, blurring lines between civic participation there and here, then and now. Shortly after the King's Men acquired their second venue, Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus, resorting again to Roman subject matter as he sought to combine formerly discrete practices, the signature "public" theatricality of the outdoor stage and the courtly refinements of his new "private" auditorium.
In later chapters, Dustagheer pursues the acoustical and visual experience of playgoing in these spaces. The Globe's capaciousness lent itself auditorily to noisy soundscapes of alarums, cannon-shot, and thunder storms; and visually to processions, military clashes, and divine descents from the heavens. By...