Popular Theatre and the Red Bull


  • Lucy Munro Keele University
  • Anne Lancashire University of Toronto
  • John H. Astington University of Toronto
  • Marta Straznicky Queen's University




Governing the Pen to the Capacity of the Stage: Reading the Red Bull and Clerkenwell by Lucy Munro: This essay introduces the Issues in Review section ‘Popular Theatre and the Red Bull’, which highlights new work on the Red Bull theatre and its Clerkenwell locality. It suggests ways in which this group of essays relate to current ideas about repertory approaches to early drama, and concludes with a look at the career of actor-dramatist Thomas Jordan at the Red Bull in the Caroline, Interregnum and Restoration periods.

Multi-day Performance and the London Clerkenwell Play by Anne Lancashire: Although it has recently been suggested that the multi-day play performed at least occasionally at Clerkenwell, in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, either was not a theatrical performance or was a single-day play performance repeated over several days, evidence strongly points to a multi-day biblical play. Possibly the play was performed with some regularity but was only Noted in royal records and/or chronicles when it was made use of, and therefore perhaps performed with greater elaboration, in response to special royal circumstances. When the Red Bull theatre was built in the same general area in the early seventeenth century, following the locating of the royal Revels Office there from 1560 to 1607-8, it was thus apparently continuing a tradition of Clerkenwell as a major London performance district.

Playing the Man: Acting at the Red Bull and the Fortune by John Astington: The seventeenth-century playhouses of north-west London, especially the Red Bull, have suffered a bad press, from their own day to the present. This paper attempts to assess the basis of the evidence for their low reputation, through an examination of the companies which occupied them, their repertories, and their actors. While there are a number of indications of a somewhat populist and old-fashioned character in both repertory and acting style, there are balancing signs of high levels of performance and production in the companies which used the theatres, and of the acquisition of up-to-date and fashionable plays throughout the Caroline period. The difference in standards, as well as in audience, at the Red Bull in particular, has been overemphasised by modern historians and commentators, influenced as they have been by anecdotal comments on the theatres composed in the interregnum and Restoration.

The Red Bull Repertory in Print, 1608-1638 by Marta Straznicky: Plays from the Red Bull repertory were not only published but identified as Red Bull productions in a surprisingly large number of quarto editions in the first half of the seventeenth century. The design, typography, and ownership of the Red Bull quartos suggests that, as reading material, the Red Bull plays were not identified with a strictly ‘low’ cultural or social sector. The position of these plays in early modern print culture thus contradicts the familiar rhetorical construction of Red Bull playgoers as unlettered, or even illiterate, and demands a reassessment of the social and educational make-up the audience for a ‘popular’ theatrical repertory.






Issues in Review Essays