The Swan Theatre was built by Francis Langley about 1594, south of the Thames, close to the Rose, in Surrey. Scholars disagree as to whether Shakespeare and his company, the Chamberlain’s Men, played there — some argue that the troupe definitely played at the Swan from time to time while they were looking for a permanent home. The Swan was one of the largest and most distinguished of all the playhouses, but its place in history is primarily owing to the following two facts:
First, it was at the Swan that the acting company Pembroke’s Men staged the infamous play, The Isle of Dogs, which was responsible for the government’s closure of all playhouses in the summer of 1597. Second, the Swan is represented in the only contemporary drawing of the inside of an Elizabethan playhouse known to exist (see picture on right).
The drawing was created in 1596 by Johannes de Witt, a Dutch traveler who made the sketch while on a trip to London, shortly after the Swan playhouse was built. The copy pictured here was discovered in Amsterdam in 1880. Anything we can deduce from this drawing of the Swan can most likely be applied to Shakespeare’s Globe. The Swan has a rather bleak history after 1597, when the staging of plays gave way to a variety of other activities such as amateur poetry readings, and swashbuckling competitions. In 1632 it was declared that the Swan was now “fallen to decay.”
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.