Vic Keegan’s Lost London 33: Shakespeare’s Newington Butts

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 33: Shakespeare’s Newington Butts

The words “Shakespeare” and “Elephant and Castle” are not normally found in the same sentence. That is a pity because one of the very earliest theatres of Shakespeare’s time, in which his plays were put on and where he himself performed, was the Newington Butts Theatre. This was located under where the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and adjacent roundabout are today. Sadly, there are no remains.

The theatre is believed to have been constructed in 1575 or early 1576 according to archaeologist Julian Bowsher in his authoritative book Shakespeare’s London Theatreland. This would make it slightly earlier than either The Theatre or the Curtain Theatre, both in Shoreditch, where many of Shakespeare’s early plays were put on. The only purpose-built theatre that predates Newington Butts was the Red Lion in Whitechapel, about which little is known but which definitely did not stage any Shakespeare plays.

The Newington theatre was a good mile from the Southwark theatres – The Rose, The Globe and The Swan – which meant it distanced itself from outbreaks of plague and from the Puritan-run City of London, which strongly disapproved of plays. But its distance from the Thames eventually proved its undoing, being unpopular with players and playgoers alike.

It is on record that in June, 1594 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – the company of actors for which Shakespeare wrote – gave their earliest performances of Titus Andronicus and The Taming of the Shrew at Newington Butts, as well an early version of Hamlet which Shakespeare almost certainly didn’t write. Bowsher says: “It is probable that Shakespeare acted there, possibly in 1593 and almost certainly in 1594.”

Vic Keegan has found 32 pieces of Lost London prior to this one. See here.

Categories: Culture, Lost London

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