The Swan (theatre) in London

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The Swan was a theatre in Southwark, London, England, built in 1595 on top of a previously standing structure, The structure originally belonged to the Monastery of Bermondsey. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it became royal property and passed through several hands before being sold to Langley for 850 £. The Mayor of London opposed Langley's permit to open a theatre, but his protests held no ground as the property had formerly belonged to the crown and the Mayor had no jurisdiction.

Langley had the theatre built almost certainly in 1595–96. When it was new, the Swan was the most visually impressive of the existing London theatres. Johannes De Witt, a Dutchman who visited London around 1596, left a description of the Swan in a manuscript titled Observationes Londiniensis, now lost. Translated from the Latin, his description identifies the Swan as the "finest and biggest of the London ampitheatres," with a capacity for 3000 spectators. It was built of flint concrete, and its wooden supporting columns were so cleverly painted that "they would deceive the most acute observer into thinking that they were marble," giving the Swan a "Roman" appearance. (De Witt also drew a sketch of the theatre. The original is lost, but a copy by Arendt van Buchell survives, and is the only sketch of an Elizabethan playhouse known to exist. If the Lord Chamberlain's Men acted at the Swan in the summer of 1596—which is possible, though far from certain—they would be the actors shown in the Swan sketch.) When Henslowe built the new Hope Theatre in 1613, he had his carpenter copy the Swan, rather than his own original theatre, the Rose, which must have appeared dated and out of style in comparison.

In 1597 the Swan housed the acting company Pembroke's Men. Actors Richard Jones, Thomas Downtown, and leader Edward Alleyn joined the troupe after leaving their positions in Lord Admirals Men at the rival playhouse The Rose. In 1598 Pembroke's Men staged the infamous play The Isle of Dogs, by Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson, the content of which gave offense, most likely for its "satirical"<ref name="Adams" /> nature on the attack of some people high in authority. Jonson was imprisoned, along with Gabriel Spenser (an actor) in the play, and others. Langley, already in trouble with the Privy Council over matters unrelated to theater, may have exacerbated his danger by allowing his company to stage the play after a royal order that all playing stop and all theaters be demolished. This order may have been directed at Langley alone; the other companies, the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the Admiral's Men, had been authorized to return to the stage by October. They were granted licenses to perform. The Swan continued to operate without a license until Feb 19, 1598, when the two licensed companies called attention to them. Following the scandal, the Swan only held sporadic performances.<ref name="Adams" /> Another scandal rocked the Swan in 1602, when Richard Vennar advertised a new play, "England's Joy," to be performed at the Swan on November 6.<ref name="Thomson" /> Vennar claimed the play was a fantastical story in honor of Queen Elizabeth, and seats sold out quickly. However, the play was never performed. The townspeople were enraged and vandalized the theatre, and the theatre never seemed to recover its former popularity.

Because both court and city were interested in limiting the number of acting troupes in London, and because there was, consequently, a glut of large open-roof venues in the city, the Swan was only intermittently home to drama. Along with The Isle of Dogs, the most famous play to premiere there was Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, performed by the newly-merged Lady Elizabeth's Men in 1613. The theater offered other popular entertainments, such as swashbuckling competitions and bear-baiting.

For the next eight years the building was used occasionally for special entertainment. After 1615 the Swan was deserted for five years, but used again in 1621 by some actors who are unknown. They did not stay for long.<ref name="Adams" />

The facility grew decrepit over the next two decades. In Nicholas Goodman's 1632 pamphlet Holland's Leaguer, the theatre is described as "now fallen into decay, and, like a dying swan, hangs her head and sings her own dirge." Historical sources do not mention the Swan after that date.