Burbage Family Ownership
James Burbage bought seven rooms in the Blackfriars property on 4 February 1596 for £600. He immediately remodeled the rooms into a playing venue. However, he was prevented from using it for that purpose by neighbors who petitioned the privy council to require that the property be converted to some other use than that of a "common playhouse" (the petition is undated but appears from a reference in a similar petition in 1618 to have been sent in November 1596; see Berry in Wickham 507). Burbage died in February 1597, and his son Richard assumed control of the Blackfriars property. In 1600 Richard Burbage leased the remodeled playing area in Blackfriars to Henry Evans, who had briefly held the lease of the "first" Blackfriars c. 1583-4.
Tenancy, Children of the Queen's Revels
Henry Evans leased the Blackfriars playhouse £40 per year for twenty-one years. He brought in a newly configured company, the Children of the Queen's Revels. Immediately the company attracted the talent of Ben Jonson, whose Cynthia's Revels and Poetaster debuted in 1600 and 1601 (respectively), and George Chapman, whose All Fools and May Day joined that 1600-1 repertory. Fairly soon, the company lost favor with the royal family and consequently the privilege of calling themselves "Queen's." The resulting organization, the Children of the Revels, continued to irritate the authorities and came to be called the Children of Blackfriars. Henry Evans turned back the lease to Burbage in March 1608, and the King's players took it up.
Tenancy, King's Players
Because of the long period of plague in 1608-9, it is unclear precisely when the King's Men began to play at Blackfriars, but it is certain that they retained the lease on the playhouse until the government ban of 2 September 1642 (Smith 283). Their use of the playhouse in conjunction with the Globe is a controversial subject, and arguments on the subject are based on very little documentary evidence.
- Seasonal Use: Scholars have believed that the King's players, with two playhouses at their disposal, used the smaller, more exclusive, more expensive, indoor playhouse in Blackfriars in the winter and the larger, non-exclusive, cheaper outdoor Globe in the summer. They have based this belief primarily on the testimony of James Wright, who in 1699 published a dialogue between fictional characters who discuss theatrical conditions "before the Wars" (4); one of the characters, Truman, refers to the Blackfriars and Globe as "a Winter and Summer House" (5). Given the paucity of theatrical records at either house, scholars have not been able to document the accuracy of Wright's claim in terms of when such an arrangement began and how months were divided into seasons.
- Profits: Scholars have believed that the Blackfriars was a more profitable venue for the King's players than the Globe. Their claim is based primarily on higher admission fees (apparently 18d. to enter; +6d. for a stool on the stage [Smith 197-8]). One problem with this, however, is that the capacity of the houses differed. The Globe might hold several thousand playgoers; the Blackfriars held slightly more than 500. Therefore the revenue at the two houses depends in addition on the frequency of performance. Boys' companies in indoor houses appear to have performed once, maybe twice a week; nothing except the 1619 complaint of the Blackfriars residents about "daily" disruption of crowds and coaches indicates the frequency of performances by the King's players (Wickham 522).
- Repertory: In 1948 G. E. Bentley made explicit what scholars had assumed for some time about the repertory of the King's players post-1608, namely, that the company adjusted its purchases and offerings to cater to their newly available upscale clientele. Bentley's argument, which is most concerned with Shakespeare's late plays, was the default position for many years, but it has lately been under siege. Gurr declared in 1996 that it had "long been discredited" (367). Even so scholars continue to search among the company's new plays post-1608 for signs of Blackfriars conditions in the dramaturgy and staging of the King's plays. In an attempt to rescue the Globe from slipping even farther into second-class status, Knutson argues for a repertorial balance at both company venues between plays old and new, and between plays with appeal to common and sophisticated tastes ("What if there wasn't ..." 56-59). See also Lucy Munro's Shakespeare in the Theatre: The King's Men, 1603-1660.
Lawsuits and petitions provide the best available details on housekeeping arrangements at Blackfriars and the distribution of company shares (see Smith). Here it is sufficient to repeat that Richard Burbage created a syndicate similar to that at the Globe made up of himself, John Heminges, William Shakespeare, Cuthbert Burbage, Henry Condell, William Sly, and Thomas ("Henry"?) Evans (Smith 245-6). In a 1635 petition labeled by scholars the "Sharers' Papers," three players sue "shareholders in the Globe and Blackfriars to sell them some of their shares" (Smith 276; see also 177-81 and 553-9). In the course of defending against redistribution by the Lord Chamberlain, Cuthbert Burbage provided a now-famous thumbnail history of the Burbage family's involvement in the business side of playhouse management. It is in this testimony that Cuthbert called his father "the first builder of playhouses" (Smith 557). Of Blackfriars specifically, he had the following to say:
- Now for the Blackfriars, that is our inheritance. Our father purchased it at extreme rates, and made it into a playhouse with great charge and trouble; which after was leased out to one Evans, that first set up the boys commonly called the Queen's Majesty's Children of the Chapel. In process of time the boys growing up to be men, which were Underwood, Field, Ostler, and were taken to strengthen the King's service; and the more to strengthen the service, the boys daily wearing out, it was considered that house would be as fit for ourselves, and so purchased the lease remaining from Evans with our money, and placed men players, which were Heminges, Condell, Shakespeare, &c.
Bentley, Gerald Eades. Shakespeare and the Blackfriars Theatre. Shakespeare Survey 1 (1948): 38-50.
Berry, Herbert. "The Second Blackfriars," in Wickham, 501-4.
Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespeare Company 1594-1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Two Playhouses, Both Alike in Dignity,” Shakespeare Studies, 30 (2002): 111-18.
Smith, Irwin. Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse. New York: New York University Press, 1964.
Munro, Lucy. Children of the Queen's Revels: A Jacobean Theatre Repertory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Wright, James. Historia Histrionica. 1699.
NB. This page is a work in progress; rather than attempting to represent a complete list of plays staged at the Blackfriars (2nd), this page will continually be updated as new entries are created for Blackfriars (2nd) plays.