Why is A Statue of William Shakespeare Needed to Celebrate the Existence of the Blackfriars Playhouse? (courtesy of the Encyclopedia Britannica)
Playhouse Yard, EC4
A modern street sign and a fragment of an ancient stone wall are the only lasting reminders of a building that once housed the only indoor playhouse owned by William Shakespeare and where his finest plays, written towards the end of his career, were presented. Plays such as The Tempest and The Winter's Tale. Will you support a permanent statue to Shakespeare to mark the site of this historic playhouse? With no plaque and nothing unusual to draw the attention of passers by, the name Playhouse Yard is the only clue to the historical background of this area. Yet it is one of few remaining that can boast genuine links with England's greatest dramatist.
Seconds away from the frantically busy traffic intersection at Blackfriars Bridge, Playhouse Yard seems almost deserted by comparison. An unremarkable street at first sight, it is worth exploring carefully. Within paces, it leads to an obscured churchyard and a little maze of alleys which would have been very familiar to Shakespeare when he lived and worked here at the end of the 16th century.
At that time, Playhouse Yard was part of a massive monastic complex which had been confiscated during the reformation. The monastery, which stretched from Shoe Lane off Fleet Street right down to the Thames at Puddle Dock, had belonged to the Dominicans who were known as the Black Friars because of their habit. The whole district retained this name and when the old refectory was turned into a theatre, it was naturally used to define its location.
The Blackfriars Theatre was big enough to hold between 600-700 people and Burbage's company, first called the Lord Chamberlain's Men and then the King's Men, would have performed many of the plays that Shakespeare had written for their use here and at their sister playhouse, the Globe on Bankside. The works of other writers were also presented here, amongst them Ben Johnson's Every Man in his Humour in which Shakespeare himself was an actor in 1598.
Unlike Bankside, Blackfriars was a fashionable residential area and Shakespeare bought a house a short walk away from the theatre in Ireland Yard. The house, which he later willed to his daughter Susannah, would have overlooked both St. Ann's church yard and another of the old monastery buildings, the Provincial's Hall. St. Ann's is long gone but a section of the monastery wall (photo below) can still be found in the part of its churchyard that remains in Ireland Yard.