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Cockpit in Court

Inigo Jones

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(detail)1629 | opening
converted for theatre by I. Jones.

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Inigo Jones |main architect

History

Jones studied the Vicenza theatre carefully on his second visit to Italy, and undoubtedly nursed the hope of erecting its counterpart in England. His sketches survive. Like the Teatro Farnese (which he cannot have known), the design has one large arch instead of five smaller ones, with a permanent perspec¬tive set inside it. Other sketches show fully-developed proscenium arches, possibly temporary structures for masques. In the event, the only real offspring of the Teatro Olimpico seems to have been Jones's Cockpit-in-Court Theatre at Whitehall. Much uncertainty still surrounds this building, but the following is a plausible interpretation. The Cockpit (i.e. a real pit for cock fighting) had been part of the rambling Whitehall Palace since Henry VII's time. Under James I it came to be used for private performances of plays and under Charles I (in 1630) it was remodelled by Jones as a permanent theatre. A plan and elevation at Worcester College, Oxford, is thought to represent this remodelling though the drawing is actually in John Webb's, not Jones's, hand. It is a small-scale variation on the plan of the Teatro Olimpico, with the seating arranged as a half-octagon and the scaenae frons curved. Five arches are framed in an elaborate classical facade. What was to happen behind them? There is hardly room for perspectives and the arrangement of five independent painted flats would have presented difficulties. The fact that Jones was never able to realize his more ambitious plans is much to be regretted. Those opportunities came only after the Restoration, when first Webb and then Sir Christopher Wren brought England into the mainstream of Continental theatre building. Neither, however, had the blend of fantasy and inventiveness that Jones possessed.


In: Tidworth, Simon: Theatres: An Illustrated History. London 1973 p. 63 -64

 

Cockpit, london (later the Phoenix), a public theatre in Drury Lane, where for many years its name was perpetuated in Pitt Place. It should not be confused with the Cockpit at Whitehall, which was used for the private presentation of plays before the Court. The Drury Lane Cockpit, built for cock-fights by John Best in 1609, was converted into a roofed or 'private' theatre in 1616 by Christopher Beeston. It was about the same size as and very similar to the Blackfriars. On Shrove Tuesday 1617 the London apprentices, in the course of their usual rowdy merrymaking on that day, sacked and set fire to it. It was quickly rebuilt and renamed the Phoenix, though the old name continued in use. From 1636/7 Beeston used it for a company of young boys, which was run after his death by his son William.
It was closed with all the other theatres in 1642, but illicit performances must have been given there, as it was raided by Parliamentary soldiers in 1649. Two of operas) were performed at the Cockpit, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and Sir Francis Drake (1659).
When the theatres reopened Rhodes, formerly prompter at the Blackfriars theatre, played at the Cockpit with a troupe of youngsters, many of whom, like Betterton, became famous. The theatre fell out of use after the opening of Drury Lane.

 

In: Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The concise Oxford companion to the theatre. 1st ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1972.   ISBN 0-19-281102-9. p. 102 


 

 

 

Authors: Hartnoll Phyllis, Simon Tidworth

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