For the modern Fortune Theatre, seeFortune Theatre. For the New Zealand theatre, seeFortune Theatre, Dunedin.
Reconstruction of the theatre, drawn byWalterGodfreyin 1911 based on the builders contract
TheFortune Playhousewas a historictheatreinLondon. It was located betweenWhitecross Streetand the modernGolden Lane, just outside theCity of London. It was founded about 1600, and suppressed by thein 1642.
TheFortune Theatrewas contemporary withShakespeareGlobeThe Swanand others; it stood in the parish ofSt Giles-without-Cripplegate, to the west of theShoreditchlocations ofThe Theatreand theCurtain Theatre, between Whitecross Street and Golden Lane in what is today named Fortune Street, just outside theCity of London. Between 1600 and 1642, it was among the chief venues fordrama in London. The site is said to have originally been occupied by a nursery for the children ofHenry VIII.12
The Fortune was erected as the second half of a substantial realignment of Londons chief acting companies. In 1597, theLord Chamberlains Menhad left, or rather been ejected, fromThe Theatre; they abandonedShoreditchand in 1599 constructed a new theatre, theGlobe, inSouthwark. TheAdmirals Men, then playing in the nearby and agingRose Theatre, suddenly faced stiff competition forBanksideaudiences.
At this point, the Admirals managerPhilip Hensloweand his stepson-in-law, the leading actorEdward Alleyn, made plans to move to Shoreditch; Alleyn appears to have funded the new theatre, later selling half-interest to his father-in-law. They paid240 for a thirty-year lease on a plot of land between tenements on Golding and Whitecross Lane. They hiredPeter Street, who had just finished building the Globe, to make them a playhouse. Street was paid 440 for the construction job; with another 80 spent for painting and incidental expenses, the cost of the physical building was 520. The total expenses for the project, including the securing of property rights and clearances of previous leases, came to 1,320.3Maintaining the theatre cost about 120 per year in the first decade of its existence.4
Because the contract for the construction was preserved among Alleyns papers, a good deal more is known about the Fortune than about the other outdoor theatres. The document also casts some light on the features of the Globe, since Henslowe and Alleyn planned their theatre with an eye on their rivals venue; many of the details in the contract are for sizes equal to or bigger than the Globes equivalent.
The plot of land on which the theatre sat was approximately square, 127 feet (39m) across and 129 feet (39m) deep. The theatre was built on a foundation of lime and brick; square-shaped (uniquely among the periods amphitheatres), each wall measured eighty feet outside and fifty-five within. The building was three stories tall; the first-floor galleries were twelve feet high, those on the second floor eleven; those on the third, nine. Each row of galleries was twelve feet deep. Henslowe and Alleyn specified that the Fortune outdo the Globe in every point forscantlings; they also provided, in accordance with common practice, for two-penny rooms and gentlemens rooms. The building was constructed oflath and plaster, with wood floors in the galleries.
The stage, andtiring-house, were thrust forward into the middle of the square. The tiring-house had glazed windows; the manner of its attachment to the stage is unknown but presumably similar to that of theSwan. The stage was forty-three feet across; it was covered with tile.
Henslowe and Alleyns plans met with considerable opposition from the neighbourhood and city officials. With the aid of their patron,Charles Howard, the Lord Admiral, they secured permission from thePrivy Councilfor the venture. Henslowe seems also to have soothed his neighbors worries by pledging substantial amounts to charity in the parish.
The theatre housed the Admirals Men by late 1600, as revealed by correspondence of theVenetianambassador in London. This troupe remained as tenants for more than two decades, surviving the deaths of both Henslowe and Alleyn, and remaining fairly stable under the successive patronage ofPrince HenryandLord Palsgrave. Upon Henslowes death, Alleyn assumed full control of the property.
Originally described as the fairest play-house in the town, the Fortune suffered a slow decline in reputation over the decades. In 1605, notorious roistererMary Frithmay have appeared on the boards, singing and playing a lute; it is not clear from theconsistory courtrecords in which this event is described if the players were a party to her antics. In 1612, the theatre was mentioned by name in a city order suppressing the post-performance jigs, which authorities believed led to fist-fights and thefts. That this belief had some merit is suggested by a case the next year, in which a country farmer stabbed a city gentleman. In 1614, Thomas Tomkisss academic playAlbumazarlinked the Fortune and the Red Bull Theatre as raucous places to see old-fashioned fare such asThe Spanish Tragedy. The aspersion stuck, as did the conjunction of north-side theatres.
Yet the conventional view should not be exaggerated; on one and perhaps two occasions, ambassadors visited the theatre. On the first and less certain occasion, a member of the Venetian delegation, Orazio Busino, describes a visit in December 1617 to a theatre that may have been the Fortune. On the second, the notoriousGondomarcertainly visited Alleyn and the others there in 1621; after the performance the players held a banquet in his honour.
On 9 December 1621, the Fortune burned to the ground, taking with it the companys stock of plays and properties. To meet the 1000 cost of rebuilding, Alleyn formed a partnership of twelve sharers, each paying an initial amount of 83 6s. 8d. By then aged and busy withDulwich College, he took only one share for himself, and leased the property to the companys sharers for 128 per year. (The shareholders paid Alleyn 10 13s. 10d. each annually, and in return split the profits of the theatre, and the expenses of running it, twelve ways.)5The theatre re-opened in March 1623. When Alleyn died in 1626, the College assumed control of the lease; the actor Richard Gunnell became its manager. Yet this change does not appear to have changed operations at the theatre. The new theatre appears to have been made of brick, with a lead and tile roof as fire-proofing measure. It also seems to have been round, abandoning its unconventional square shape.
The reputation of the theatre did not improve after its reconstruction. In 1626, it was the scene of a riot involving sailors, in the course of which aconstablewas assaulted. In 1628, a protg ofBuckinghamwas assaulted by a mob after leaving a performance there.
In 1631, Palsgraves Men moved to the playhouse at Salisbury Court; they were replaced at the Fortune by the actors of the Kings Revels. The only play definitely associated with this period is a comedy, now lost, by William Heminges, son ofJohn Heminges. In 1635, a company that had been at theRed Bull Theatreoccupied the theatre, only to meet a notable run of bad fortune:plagueclosed the theatres for more than a year, from May 1636 to October 1637. Since they had no income from the theatre, the twelve shareholders in the theatre fell seriously arrears in their payments to Dulwich College, by more than 165.6
In 1639, the actors were fined 1000 for depicting a religious ceremony on stage this depiction was taken as anti-Catholic, but in the late 1630s, almost any reference to religion was risky. This group returned to the Red Bull at Easter 1640, and the remnants of Palsgraves company, now under the patronage of the youngPrince Charlesand therefore calledPrince Charless Men, returned to the Fortune.
WhenParliament ordered all theatres closedin 1642, the Fortune entered a slow but irreversible decline. The actors at least occasionally violated the order, for they were raided and their property seized during a performance almost a year after the closure; between the expiration of the original order and the enactment of new, more stringent orders in 1649, the players returned to the theatre. In 1649, soldiers pulled down the stage and the gallery seats. Bythe Restoration, it had partially collapsed, and the masters of Dulwich sold what remained as scrap.
The 1599 contract for building the Fortune Theatre was found in the papers of theatrical managerPhilip HensloweatDulwich College. The contract7gives some overall dimensions of the Fortune but there are no plans or elevations.
TheAllen Elizabethan Theatreat theOregon Shakespeare Festivalin Ashland, Oregon, designed by Richard L. Hay, uses the dimensions from the contract but the stages appearance and arrangements are speculation, as the original plans have never been found.
The New Fortune Theatre is a replica at theUniversity of Western Australiain Perth, Australia.
TheWaseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museumin Tokyo, Japan, is also modelled after the playhouse.
TheGdask Shakespeare Theatrein Gdask, Poland, is built on the site of a 17th-century theatre, known as the Gdask Fencing School, which is believed to have been modelled on the first Fortune Theatre. Though not an exact reproduction, the modern theatre incorporates elements from the designs of the earlier theatres.
(London: Darton, Harvey and Darton, 1814), Letter XXIV, p. 345
Limon, Jerzy (1 March 2011).The city and the problem of theatre reconstructions: Shakespearean theatres in London and Gdask.
Actes des Congrs de la Socit Française Shakespeare
Shakespearean Playhouses: A history of English theatres from the beginnings to the Restoration
The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, Volume 6: Theatres
. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.ISBN
, byJoseph Quincy Adams, Jr.fromProject Gutenberg
Coordinates:513122N0538W / 51.52278N 0.09389W /51.52278; -0.09389
Former buildings and structures in the London Borough of Islington
This page was last edited on 8 June 2019, at 23:02