Tudor Entertainment

Extract of the Ralph Agas Woodcut map of London (1630s copy of 1560s original)

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Early modern 1485-1750

Curriculum topics: Recreation through time, Tudors

Suggested inquiry questions: What can we learn about entertainment in the Tudor period? What could you do to pass the time in the Tudor period?

Potential activities: Write a news report on the announcement of a new theatre being built in your area during the Tudor period. What would the reporter say?

What was the effect of the early playhouses?

Early Modern people had many options for entertainment in the towns and cities of England.  Sports were popular with football, wrestling and bowls available alongside blood sports like animal baiting. Literacy levels were rising with the invention of print and improved schooling outside of the church, music also benefited from this rise with the mass printing of ballads and songs available for those who could sing and play the variety of Early Modern instruments. Travelling companies of players toured the country, while some found more permanent homes in inns before establishing purpose built playhouses for the first time.


Tasks

Source One – Warrant

  1. Where is the play being shown?
  2. What does this suggest about the play and its audience?
  3. Why would the Privy Council censor the play? What are they worried about? [clue: think about the title of the play]
  4. Why would they seize the playbook?

Source Two – Petition

  1. What has worried the inhabitants of Blackfriars?
  2. List three complaints the inhabitants have.
  3. Why has Burbage built in Blackfriars and not inside the city? What does this suggest about London at the time?

Source Three – Request

  1. What has happened to the lead actor of Sebastian’s boys?
  2. What does this tell us about life as a young actor?

Source Four – License

  1. Where is Dronsiano from?
  2. Why might the license have been granted specifically for the period of Lent?
  3. What kind of acting troupe is Dronsiano’s?
  4. Research Commedia Dell’arte to find out more about their style of play.

Source Five – Order

  1. Before this order, when could plays not be performed and why?
  2. What has happened that has made this order necessary?
  3. What sport does Queen Elizabeth think has been damaged by the increase in plays?
  4. What does the order ban?

Source Six – Map

  1. What activities are held in the round buildings shown on the South Bank of the Thames?
  2. Why were these buildings built outside of the city?
  3. What does the map show us about London at the time? (Particularly the difference between the two sides of the river.)

Background

Finding something to pass the time in the Tudor and Stuart periods would not be too different from our hobbies today. Sport, music and theatre were all accessible to both the court and the general public with Sundays and Saints days allowing time for entertainment.

Henry VIII himself took part in many tournaments, showing his skill in jousting and sword fighting. He also enjoyed a few sports reasonably familiar to us today – he ordered the first recorded pair of football boots but banned the violent sport, which was more like a game of capture the flag where one team attempted to capture and keep the ball from the other, in 1540.

Did you know that Anne Boleyn was summoned to court for her arrest while she was watching a tennis match? This ‘Real’ or ‘Royal’ Tennis game looked a little different than our modern ‘lawn tennis’, more like the modern game of squash with players bouncing the tennis ball off a wall.

Dances were popular with different styles for various amounts of dancers. The Gavotte, Pavane and Volta allowed different degrees of contact between dancers while new types of dance such as Ballet were introduced from the continent for the first time to watch professionals perform.

The first purpose built theatres were built across London, giving a permanent home to theatre companies to perform their plays alongside their touring shows which travelled the country allowing those in towns and villages to enjoy a performance. With change comes controversy, however, and much of our records of these early theatres come from legal records as the crown and government sought to control the changing cultural landscape and individuals experienced the benefits and fall-backs of investing in these new businesses.


Teachers' notes

The sources in this lesson explore a variety of documents related to theatres and plays in Tudor England. They show the worries of the court and communities about theatre, the dangers of life as a child actor, the internationality of theatre as a touring profession and the effect of the growth of theatre on other pastimes such as bear baiting.

The lesson can be used in studies of the Tudor Period from KS2-4 to explore everyday life and culture of the Tudor public.

Many thanks to the Before Shakespeare Project for their help with this lesson.


External links

Before Shakespeare Project – AHRC funded research project exploring Early theatre through archives and performance.

The Globe – Find out more about Shakespeare’s purpose built theatre.

Museum of London Archaeology – blog posts on recent excavations of Early Modern theatres.

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Early modern 1485-1750

Curriculum topics: Recreation through time, Tudors

Suggested inquiry questions: What can we learn about entertainment in the Tudor period? What could you do to pass the time in the Tudor period?

Potential activities: Write a news report on the announcement of a new theatre being built in your area during the Tudor period. What would the reporter say?

Related resources

William Shakespeare

What can we find out about his life?

Henry VIII court rules

How did Henry VIII get up in the morning?

Henry VIII: image of a king

Was appearance everything for a ruler in the 16th century?

English Reformation c1527-1590

How did state and people respond to religious change?