Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Theatre (Greek theatron, "a place for seeing"), a building intended for dramatic representations. Edifices of this kind originated in Greece, the details of their plan being determined by the requirements which arose with the development of the Attic drama. The form ultimately assumed was that of a segment of a circle, the seats of the audience, which ascended the sides of a natural hollow in tiers corresponding to the arc, whilst the stage (proskenion) ran along the base. The koilon occupied by the spectators had a sweep of somewhat more than a semicircle, the space immediately below them in front of the proskenion being the orchestra, the most ancient and important part of the whole structure. In its centre stood the altar of Dionysus, round which the chorus sang and danced, recahing the sacred origin of the spectacle. On those rare occasions when they took an active part in the drama, they mounted the flight of steps leading from the orchestra to the proskenion. Behind the proskenion rose the skene, a stone wall containing three doors, which communicated with the actors' dressing-rooms. It was usually ornamented with columns and entablatures so as to resemble the front of a palace or temple. If this scene was not suitable, curtains were hung in front of it, or wooden scenery was introduced as a background. Stage devices were largely used, the most celebrated being the mechane, by which gods were lowered from the clouds. The most ancient Greek theatre of which there are any remains is that of Dionysus at Athens. The Roman theatres resembled the Greek in most respects, but they were generally built on level ground, and the orchestra was occupied by the seats of senators.

The mysteries and miracle plays of the Middle Ages were performed in churches, monasteries, or temporary booths, with no scenery but a scaffold in three stages to represent heaven, earth, and the infernal regions. A building for secular plays was opened in Paris by the Confraternity of the Passion about 1548, and before the close of the century several theatres modelled on that of Vitruvius had been erected in Italy. Those in which the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were first acted had a more homely origin. The theatre at Shoreditch, built by James Burbage in 1576, preserved all the features of the inn-yards in which the bands of strolling players had been wont to entertain their uncritical audience. The stage was a platform surrounded by the pit or "yard" on all sides but one, where it communioated with the geeen-room or "tiring-house." The galleries of the inn-yard reappeared in the rows of boxes or "rooms," which ran round the whole area. As regards scenery, with the exception of a few articles of furniture and similar objects, the only aid given to the imagination was a label on which the locality was written. The "Curtain" in Shoreditch was built soon after the "Theatre" which in 1598 was re-erected in Southwark, its name being changed to the "Globe." Under this title it became famous in connection with Shakespeare. Both the "Globe" and the "Swan" (l592), a contemporary drawing of which remains, were octagonal wooden structures, whereas thr "Fortune" {1599-1600) was square. Two important changes were made immediately after the Restoration - the introduction of movable scenery, and the appearance of women in the female parts. At the same time there began a gradual alteration in the internal arrangements, which continued till the middle of the 18th century. The details of construction had by that time become pretty well established, and it has not since been found necessary to introduce many modifications.

By the 6 and 7 Vict., cap. 68, the licensing of theatres became a function of the Lord Chamberlain in London and the immediate vicinity; elsewhere of the justices of the peace. By the Local Government Act of 1888 the place of these authorities was taken by the County Conucils, which freqrently depute their power to the justices.