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THE ROSE THEATRE

The following article is reprinted from Shakespearean Playhouses: A History of English Theatres from the Beginnings to the Restoration. Joseph Quincy Adams. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1917.

Doubtless one reason for the obscure rôle which the theatre at Newington played in the history of the drama was "the tediousness of the way" thither. The Rose, the second theatre to make its appearance in Surrey, was much more conveniently situated with respect to the city, for it was erected in the Liberty of the Clink and very near the river's edge. As a result, it quickly attained popularity with London playgoers, and before the end of the century had caused the centre of dramatic activity to be shifted from Finsbury Field to the Bank.

The builder of the Rose was one Philip Henslowe, then, so far as our evidence goes, unknown to the dramatic world, but destined soon to become the greatest theatrical proprietor and manager of the Tudor-Stuart age. We find him living on the Bankside and in the Liberty of the Clink at least as early as 1577. At first, so we are told, he was "but a poor man," described as "servant ... unto one Mr. Woodward." Upon the death of his employer, Woodward, he married the widow, Agnes Woodward, and thus came into the possession of considerable property. "All his wealth came by her," swore the charwoman Joan Horton. This, however, simply means that Henslowe obtained his original capital by his marriage; for, although very illiterate, he was shrewd in handling money, and he quickly amassed "his wealth" through innumerable business ventures.

As one of these ventures, no doubt, he leased from the Parish of St. Mildred, on March 24, 1585, a small piece of property on the Bankside known as "The Little Rose." "Among the early surveys of Edward VI," says Rendle, "we see that this was not merely a name -- the place was a veritable Rose Garden." At the time of the lease the property is described as consisting of a dwelling-house called "The Rose," "two gardens adjoining the same" consisting of "void ground," and at least one other small building. The dwelling-house Henslowe probably leased as a brothel -- for this was the district of the stews; and the small building mentioned above, situated at the south end of one of the gardens, he let to a London grocer named John Cholmley, who used it "to keep victualing in."

Not satisfied, however, with the income from these two buildings, Henslowe a year and a half later was planning to utilize a part of the "void ground" for the erection of a theatre. What interested him in the drama we do not know, but we may suppose that the same reason which led Burbage, Brayne, Lanman, and others to build playhouses influenced him, namely, the prospect of "great gains to ensue therefrom."

For the site of his proposed playhouse he allotted a small parcel of ground ninety-four feet square and lying in the corner formed by Rose Alley and Maiden Lane. Then he interested in the enterprise his tenant Cholmley, for, it seems, he did not wish to undertake so expensive and precarious a venture without sharing the risk with another. On January 10, 1587, he and Cholmley signed a formal deed of partnership, according to which the playhouse was to be erected at once and at the sole cost of Henslowe; Cholmley, however, was to have from the beginning a half-interest in the building, paying for his share by installments of £25 10s. a quarter for a period of eight years and three months. The total sum to be paid by Cholmley, £816, possibly represents the estimated cost of the building and its full equipment, plus rental on the land.

The building is referred to in the deed of January 10 as "a playhouse now in framing and shortly to be erected and set up." Doubtless it was ready for occupancy early in the summer. That performances were given there before the close of the year is at least indicated by an order of the Privy Council dated October 29, 1587:

A letter to the Justices of Surrey, that whereas the inhabitants of Southwark had complained unto their Lordships declaring that the order by their Lordships set down for the restraining of plays and interludes within that county on the Sabbath Days is not observed, and especially within the Liberty of the Clink, and in the Parish of St. Saviours...

The Rose was in "the Liberty of the Clink and in the Parish of St. Saviours," and so far as we have any evidence it was the only place there devoted to plays. Moreover, a distinct reference to it by name appears in the Sewer Records in April, 1588, at which date the building is described as "new."

In Norden's Map of London (1593), the Rose and the adjacent Bear Garden are correctly placed with respect to each other, but are crudely drawn. The representation of both as circular -- the Bear Garden, we know, was polygonal -- was due merely to this crudeness; yet the Rose seems to have been indeed circular in shape, "the Bankside's round-house" referred to in Tom Tell Troth's Message. The building is so pictured in the Hondius map of 1610, and in the inset maps on the title-pages of Holland's Herowlogia, 1620, and Baker's Chronicle, 1643, all three of which apparently go back to an early map of London now lost. The building is again pictured as circular, with the Bear Garden at the left and the Globe at the right, in the Delaram portrait of King James.

From Henslowe's Diary we learn that the playhouse was of timber, the exterior of lath and plaster, the roof of thatch; and that it had a yard, galleries, a stage, a tiring-house, heavens, and a flagpole. Thus it differed in no essential way from the playhouses already erected in Shoreditch or subsequently erected on the Bank.

What troupes of actors used the Rose during the first five years of its existence we do not know; indeed, until 1592 we hear nothing further of the playhouse. As a result, some scholars have wrongly inferred that the building was not erected until the spring of 1592. It seems likely, as Mr. Greg suggests, that Henslowe and Cholmley let the house to some company of players at a stipulated annual rent, and so had nothing to do with the management of its finances. This would explain the complete absence of references to the playhouse in Henslowe's accounts.

During this obscure period of five years Cholmley disappears from the history of the Rose. It may be that he withdrew from the undertaking at the outset; it may be that he failed to meet his payments, and so forfeited his moiety; or it may be that, becoming dissatisfied with his bargain, he sold out to Henslowe. Whatever the cause, his interest in the playhouse passed over to Henslowe, who appears henceforth as the sole proprietor. In the spring of 1592 the building was in need of repairs, and Henslowe spent a large sum of money in thoroughly overhauling it. The lathing and plastering of the exterior were done over, the roof was re-thatched, new rafters were put in, and much heavy timber was used, indicating important structural alterations. In addition, the stage was painted, the lord's room and the tiring-house were provided with ceilings, a new flagpole was erected, and other improvements were introduced. Clearly an attempt was made to render the building not only stronger, but also more attractive in appearance and more modern in equipment.

The immediate occasion for these extensive alterations and repairs was the engagement of Lord Strange's Men to occupy the playhouse under Henslowe's management. This excellent troupe, with Edward Alleyn at its head, was perhaps the best company of actors then in London. It later became the Lord Chamberlain's Company, with which Shakespeare was identified; even at this early date, although documentary proof is lacking, he may have been numbered among its obscure members. The troupe opened the Rose on February 19, 1592, with a performance of Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and followed this with many famous plays, such as The Spanish Tragedy, The Jew of Malta, Orlando Furioso, and Henry VI.

The coming of Lord Strange's Men to the Rose led to a close friendship between Henslowe and Edward Alleyn, then twenty-six years of age, and at the height of his fame as an actor, a friendship which was cemented in the autumn by Alleyn's marriage to Henslowe's stepdaughter (and only child) Joan Woodward. The two men, it seems, were thoroughly congenial, and their common interests led to the formation of a business partnership which soon became the most important single force in the theatrical life of the time.

Lord Strange's Men continued to act at the Rose from February 19 until June 23, 1592, when the Privy Council, because of a serious riot in Southwark, ordered the closing of all playhouses in and about London until Michaelmas following. Strange's Men very soon petitioned the Council to be allowed to reopen their playhouse; the Council, in reply, compromised by granting them permission to act three days a week at Newington Butts. This, however, did not please the actors, and they started on a tour of the provinces. In a short time, discovering that they could not pay their expenses on the road, they again petitioned for permission to open the Rose, complaining that "our company is great, and thereby our charge intolerable in traveling the country," and calling attention to the fact that "the use of our playhouse on the Bankside, by reason of the passage to and from the same by water, is a great relief to the poor watermen there." The petition was accompanied by a supporting petition from the watermen asking the Council "for God's sake and in the way of charity to respect us your poor watermen." As a result of these petitions the Council gave permission, probably late in August, 1592, for the reopening of the playhouse. But before Strange's Men could take advantage of this permission, a severe outbreak of the plague caused a general inhibition of acting, and not until December 29, 1592, were they able to resume their performances at the Rose. A month later the plague broke out again with unusual severity, and on February 1, 1593, playing was again inhibited. The year rapidly developed into one of the worst plague-years in the history of the city; between ten and fifteen thousand persons died of the epidemic, and most of the London companies, including Strange's Men, went on an extended tour of the country.

Near the close of the year, and while Strange's Men were still traveling, the plague temporarily subsided, and Sussex's Men, who were then in London, secured the use of the Rose. They began to act there on December 27, 1593; but on February 6, 1594, the plague having again become threatening, acting was once more inhibited. This brief occupation of the Rose by Sussex's Men was notable only for the first performance of Titus Andronicus.

At Easter, April 1, Strange's Men being still absent, Henslowe allowed the Rose to be used for eight days by "the Queen's Men and my Lord of Sussex's together." This second brief chapter in the long and varied history of the playhouse is interesting only for two performances of the old King Leir.

As a result of the severe plague and the long continued inhibition of acting, there was a general confusion and subsequent reorganization of the various London troupes. The Admiral's Men, who had been dispersed in 1591, some joining Strange's Men, some going to travel in Germany, were brought together again; and Edward Alleyn, who had formerly been their leader, and who even after he became one of Strange's Men continued to describe himself as "servant to the right honorable the Lord Admiral," was induced to rejoin them. Alleyn thereupon brought them to the Rose, where they began to perform on May 14, 1594. After three days, however, they ceased, probably to allow Henslowe to make repairs or improvements to the building.

Strange's Men also had undergone reorganization. On April 16, 1594, they lost by death their patron, the Earl of Derby. Shortly afterwards they secured the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain, and before June 3, 1594, they had arrived in London and reported to their former manager, Henslowe.

At this time, apparently, the Rose was still undergoing repairs; so Henslowe sent both the Admiral's and the Chamberlain's Men to act at Newington Butts, where they remained from June 3 to June 13, 1594. On June 15 the Admiral's Men moved back to the Rose, which henceforth they occupied alone; and the Chamberlain's Men, thus robbed of their playhouse, went to the Theatre in Shoreditch.

During the period of Lent, 1595, Henslowe took occasion to make further repairs to his playhouse, putting in new pales, patching the exterior with new lath and plaster, repainting the woodwork, and otherwise furbishing up the building. The total cost of this work was £108 10s. And shortly after, as part of these improvements, no doubt, he paid £7 2s. for "making the throne in the heavens."

Near the close of July, 1597, Pembroke's Men at the Swan acted Nashe's satirical play, The Isle of Dogs, containing, it seems, a burlesque on certain persons high in authority. As a result the Privy Council on July 28 ordered all acting in and about London to cease until November 1, and all public playhouses to be plucked down and ruined.

The latter part of the order, happily, was not put into effect, and on October 11 the Rose was allowed to open again. The Privy Council, however, punished the Swan and Pembroke's Company by ordering that only the Admiral's Men at the Rose and the Chamberlain's Men at the Curtain should henceforth be "allowed." As a consequence of this trouble with the authorities the best actors of Pembroke's company joined the Admiral's Men under Henslowe. This explains the entry in the Diary: "In the name of God, Amen. The xi of October began my Lord Admiral's and my Lord Pembroke's Men to play at my house, 1597." The two companies were very soon amalgamated, and the strong troupe thus formed continued to act at the Rose under the name of the Admiral's Men.

The Chamberlain's Men, who in 1594 had been forced to surrender the Rose to the Admiral's Men and move to the Theatre, and who in 1597 had been driven from the Theatre to the Curtain, at last, in 1599, built for themselves a permanent home, the Globe, situated on the Bankside and close to the Rose. Henslowe's ancient structure was eclipsed by this new and handsome building, "the glory of the Bank"; and the Admiral's Men, no doubt, felt themselves placed at a serious disadvantage. As a result, in the spring of 1600, Henslowe and Alleyn began the erection of a splendid new playhouse, the Fortune, designed to surpass the Globe in magnificence, and to furnish a suitable and permanent home for the Admiral's Men. The building was situated in the suburb to the north of the city, far away from the Bankside and the Globe.

The erection of this handsome new playhouse led to violent outbursts from the Puritans, and vigorous protests from the city fathers. Accordingly the Privy Council on June 22, 1600, issued the following order:

Whereas divers complaints have heretofore been made unto the Lords and other of Her Majesty's Privy Council of the manifold abuses and disorders that have grown and do continue by occasion of many houses erected and employed in and about London for common stage-plays; and now very lately by reason of some complaint exhibited by sundry persons against the building of the like house [the Fortune] in or near Golding Lane ... the Lords and the rest of Her Majesty's Privy Council with one and full consent have ordered in manner and form as follows. First, that there shall be about the city two houses, and no more, allowed to serve for the use of the common stage-plays; of the which houses, one [the Globe] shall be in Surrey, in that place which is commonly called the Bankside, or thereabouts; and the other [the Fortune], in Middlesex.

This sealed the fate of the Rose.

In July the Admiral's Men had a reckoning with Henslowe, and prepared to abandon the Bankside. After they had gone, but before they had opened the Fortune, Henslowe, on October 28, 1600, let the Rose to Pembroke's Men for two days. Possibly the troupe had secured special permission to use the playhouse for this limited time; possibly Henslowe thought that since the Fortune was not yet open to the public, no objection would be made. Of course, after the Admiral's Men opened the Fortune -- in November or early in December, 1600 -- the Rose, according to the order of the Privy Council just quoted, had to stand empty.

Its career, however, was not absolutely run. In the spring of 1602 Worcester's Men and Oxford's Men were "joined by agreement together in one company," and the Queen, "at the suit of the Earl of Oxford," ordered that this company be "allowed." Accordingly the Privy Council wrote to the Lord Mayor on March 31, 1602, informing him of the fact, and adding: "And as the other companies that are allowed, namely of me the Lord Admiral and the Lord Chamberlain, be appointed their certain houses, and one and no more to each company, so we do straightly require that this company be likewise [appointed] to one place. And because we are informed the house called the Boar's Head is the place they have especially used and do best like of, we do pray and require you that that said house, namely the Boar's Head, may be assigned unto them." But the Lord Mayor seems to have opposed the use of the Boar's Head, and the upshot was that the Council gave permission for this "third company" to open the Rose. In Henslowe's Diary, we read: "Lent unto my Lord of Worcestor's Players as followeth, beginning the 17 day of August, 1602."

This excellent company, destined to become the Queen's Company after the accession of King James, included such important actors as William Kempe, John Lowin, Christopher Beeston, John Duke, Robert Pallant, and Richard Perkins; and it employed such well-known playwrights as Thomas Heywood (the "prose Shakespeare," who was also one of the troupe), Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, John Day, Wentworth Smith, Richard Hathway, and John Webster. The company continued to act at the Rose until March 16, 1603, when it had a reckoning with Henslowe and left the playhouse. In May, however, after the coming of King James, it returned to the Rose, and we find Henslowe opening a new account: "In the name of God, amen. Beginning to play again by the King's license, and laid out since for my Lord of Worcestor's Men, as followeth, 1603, 9 of May." Since only one entry follows, it is probable that the company did not remain long at the Rose. No doubt, the outbreak of the plague quickly drove them into the country; and on their return to London in the spring of 1604 they occupied the Boar's Head and the Curtain.

After this there is no evidence to connect the playhouse with dramatic performances.

Henslowe's lease of the Little Rose property, on which his playhouse stood, expired in 1605, and the Parish of St. Mildred's demanded an increase in rental. The following note in the Diary refers to a renewal of the lease.

Memorandum, that the 25 of June, 1603, I talked with Mr. Pope at the scrivener's shop where he lies, concerning the taking of the lease anew of the little Rose, and he showed me a writing betwixt the parish and himself which was to pay twenty pound a year rent, and to bestow a hundred marks upon building, which I said I would rather pull down the playhouse than I would do so, and he bad me do, and said he gave me leve, and would bear me out, for it was in him to do it.

Henslowe did not renew his lease of the property. On October 4, 1605, the Commissioners of the Sewers amerced him for the Rose, but return was made that it was then "out of his hands." From a later entry in the Sewer Records, February 14, 1606, we learn that the new owner of the Rose was one Edward Box, of Bread Street, London. Box, it seems, either tore down the building or converted it into tenements. The last reference to it in the Sewer Records is on April 25, 1606, when it is referred to as "the late playhouse."

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