Reading the Elizabethan Acting Companies. Moving UpMarket: Queen Anne’s Men at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, 1617

Mark Bayer


In 1616, Queen Anne's Men, under the management of Christopher Beeston, moved theatrical operations from the Red Bull, a large public playhouse in Clerkenwell, to the Cockpit, an indoor hall on the increasingly fashionable Drury Lane. The success of this move was overshadowed by a riot on Shrove Tuesday, 1617, in which apprentices damaged the new theatre, forcing the company to return temporarily to the Red Bull while the Cockpit was under repair. Narratives of this event tend to describe it either as an indiscriminate episode of civil unrest or, more cogently, as demonstrating a specific animosity towards Queen Anne's Men because they were now playing the Red Bull repertory at a prohibitively expensive venue. In an effort to revise these received interpretations, I argue that the reasons for the riot go well beyond the release of aggression and issues of cost. The profit-driven motives of the Queen Anne's Men violated communal principles of fair dealing and their abandonment of the Red Bull and Clerkenwell affected a more intangible sense of loss and indignation, placing pressures on local businesses that relied on the daily theatre traffic, and severely weakening charitable efforts within the parish.

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