Jacobean Theatre

Mark Fox

By Society of London Theatre & UKT

During the reign of King James I, theatre moved indoors for the first time. Covered buildings could open all year round and were more exclusive, playing to a wealthier, more sophisticated and better-behaved crowd.

Lit by candles they also allowed primitive lighting effects for the first time, employing covered lanterns which allowed directional light at key moments. The buildings themselves, the best known being The Blackfriars Playhouse, were rectangular with walls lined by boxes. 

Benjamin Jonson (c.1617) by Abraham van BlyenberchOriginal Source: National Portrait Gallery

The best-known surviving works are the comedies of Ben Jonson, including Volpone and Every Man in His Humour.    

Successful companies were still reliant on patronage and support from the monarch.  Plays would be regularly performed at court and the early 17th century saw the development of Court Masques.  

Portret van Inigo Jones (1627 - 1636) by Voerst, Robert vanRijksmuseum

Architect Inigo Jones produced many of these plays.  His designs for huge scenic backgrounds and elaborate costumes survive to this day.  Jones's work on these spectacular productions set a template for the evolution of indoor theatre in the centuries to follow.  

The Puritan The Puritan (1883–86, cast 1899 or after) by Augustus Saint-GaudensThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ever wondered what happened after the theatres closed for 18 years?  Find out in the next story on English Restoration Theatre.

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