Stage Space



Anyone with a grammar school education in Shakespeare’s day would have known that the word theatre derived from Latin, with the meaning of a place for viewing or a public arena. Playhouse was a more specific word, a document of 8 January 1600 referring to ‘the late erected playhouse on the Bank … called the Globe’. This word seems to have been a new coinage, the first literary citation in the Oxford New English Dictionary being Shakespeare’s Henry V of 1599 (II. Chorus, 36). But earlier, John Norden’s map of London in his Speculum Britanniae of 1593 shows two circular buildings just south of the river which he identified as ‘The Bear house’ and ‘The Play house’, the latter representing the Rose theatre that had been built in 1587. These inscriptions defined purpose: actors were to be seen performing in the playhouse and in the bearhouse animals were watched being baited. The older theatre came to be used with much the same intention, as in ‘An Excellent Actor’ in the collection of Characters of 1615:1

sit in a full theatre, and you will think you see so many lines drawn from the circumference of so many ears, whiles the actor is the centre.


Theatrical Event Dramatic Action Bear House Stage Space Imaginary Context 
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  1. 6.
    Pamela Howard, What is Scenography? (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 20.Google Scholar

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© John Russell Brown 2002

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