Very little is known about this theatre, which was in use on occasion from approximately 1580. It was, unfortunately, situated over a mile from the Thames, in Surrey, near an archery training field, and the Privy Council complained of “the tediousness of the way.” It appears to be the first theatre in what would later become the most important theatre district in London. When a riot in Southwark broke out on June 23, 1592, the Privy Council closed Newington Butts and all of the other playhouses around London. A brief time after this ruling, Lord Strange’s Men were granted permission to resume acting, not in their former abode, the Rose, but at the more unpopular Newington Butts. Outraged, the troupe refused and decided they would rather perform around the countryside. But they could not make a living outside the London area and so they returned, once again petitioning the Council to grant them permission to return to the Rose. This is the response by the Privy Council to Lord Strange’s Men, and one of the very few contemporary documents that mention Newington Butts whatsoever:
To the Justices, Bailiffs, Constables, and Others to Whom it Shall Appertain:
Whereas not long since, upon some considerations, we did restrain the Lord Strange his servants from playing at the Rose on the Bankside, and enjoyned them to play three days a week at Newington Butts; now forasmuch as we are satisfied that by reason of the tediousness of the way [in reference to Newington Butts], and that of long time plays have not there been used on working days, and that for a number of poor watermen are thereby relieved, you shall permit and suffer them, or any other, there [at the Rose] to exercise themselves in such sort as they have done heretofore, and that the Rose may be at liberty without any restraint so long as it shall be free from infection, any commandment from us heretofore to the contrary notwithstanding.
In June, 1594, the Chamberlain’s Men gave their earliest recorded performances of Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet (most likely the version written by Kyd) at Newington Butts, but few other details of the theatre or the troupes that used it are known.
Bentley, Gerald Eades. Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook. Yale University Press: New Haven, 1968.
Berry, Herbert, ed. The First Public Playhouse. Queen’s University Press: Montreal, 1979.
Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. Facts on File: New York, 1990.
Lee, Sir Sidney. A Life of William Shakespeare. New York: Dover Publications, 1968.
Rutter, Carol Chillington. Documents of the Rose Playhouse. Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1984.