What was the Rose playhouse?

The Rose was a playhouse that Philip Henslowe built in 1587 and expanded in 1592. It was the first theatre to be built in Bankside, a region on the south bank of the Thames that would later be the home to other playhouses, including the Globe where Shakespeare worked. It got its name from rose gardens nearby.

Map of Bankside in 1593. The Rose is labelled "The play howse". On the right, you can see St Mary Overie (now Southwark Cathedral) and a bit of London Bridge.

The Rose was similar in shape and structure to the more famous Globe but somewhat smaller. It was an octagonal building in which galleries for seated audience members circled a 'yard' in which other audience members could stand to watch the play. A thrust stage jutted out into the standing area with pillars holding a roof over it. The back wall of the stage included two doors, a curtained 'discovery space' and a balcony. There was no roof over the 'yard', so that this was a semi-open-air theatre.  

The reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London; the Rose looked similar to this but smaller. You can see the yard (standing area), the galleries for seating, the thrust stage, the stage doors and pillars, and the balcony. Click to enlarge. Photo by Matthew Kirkland

To see what the Rose might have looked like, take a look at the amazing 3-D model created by Ortelia. If you want to see a more lively interpretation, a reasonably accurate reconstruction of the Rose was built for the film Shakespeare in Love and can be seen in many of its scenes.

The Rose was torn down in 1604. However, its foundations survived and were rediscovered in 1989 during the construction of an office block. After a public campaign, the building was redesigned to preserve the Rose, which can now be visited as a museum. In addition, the space is now used for theatrical performances which may perhaps tap into the spirit of the old playhouse. You can explore the neighborhood of the Rose site in the Google Street View window below.



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