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Important events

(detail)1595 | opening

(detail)1615 | closure
After 1615 the Swan was deserted for five years, but used again in 1621 by some actors who are unknown. They did not stay for long. In Nicholas Goodman's 1632 pamphlet Holland's Leaguer, the theatre is described as "now fallen into decay, and, like a dying swan, hangs her head and sings her own dirge."Historical sources do not mention the Swan after that date.

History

Although this Elizabethan theatre did not have a very exciting history, a good deal is known about it. It stood on Bankside, in Paris (or Parish) Garden, near the popular Bear Gardens, and was built by Francis Langley. Although Langley was a respectable citizen, in favour at Court, he had difficulty in carrying out his project owing to the opposition of the Lord Mayor of London, who feared the evils which might arise from the opening of a playhouse in his domain. Langley succeeded, however, in opening the theatre, somewhere about 1594. It probably took its name from the large number of swans on the river and banks nearby. In 1596 a Dutchman, Johannes de Witt, on a visit to London, sent to a friend in Utrecht, Arend von Buchel, a drawing of the interior of the Swan which Buchel copied into his commonplace book. Although it has many puzzling features, this 'Swan drawing' is very precious, being so far the only known pictorial representation of the inside of an Elizabethan theatre. It confirms some features otherwise known only by written evidence, particularly the large open stage, the stage building with its pillars and flag, and the three galleries for spectators running round three sides of the building. There are people on and behind the stage, but controversy has arisen over whether they represent spectators and actors during a performance, or actors only during a rehearsal. De Witt estimated the theatre's capacity at three thousand persons, which was at one time considered a slip of the pen for three hundred; but later calculations incline to two thousand in the galleries alone, and the Fortune  is thought to have been even more capacious. The building was of wood on a brick foundation with flint and mortar work between the wooden pillars, which, says de Witt, were painted to represent marble. The Swan had no permanent company, and was as much in demand for sports, fencing and so on, as for plays.

 

In: Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The concise Oxford companion to the theatre. 1st ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1972.   ISBN 0-19-281102-9. p. 532

 

 

Author: Hartnoll Phyllis

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