The term Blackfriars can refer both to the area and the theatres built there in 1577 and 1596. The Blackfriars area took its name from the Dominican monks who established a monastery in 1221 (Panton, 58). The Blackfriars church was destroyed during Henry VIII‘s Dissolution of the Monasteries and the other monastic buildings were converted into high-class residences (Chalfont, 41). The area continued to enjoy the royal patronage it had for over three centuries, meaning that it was outside the influence of any of the City Guilds.
As a result, James Burbage was able to build his private indoor theatre there in 1596. An earlier Blackfriars theatre had existed from 1577 and 1584, although this was only a series of converted residential rooms (Chalfont, 43). According to Panton the building of Burbage’s theatre contributed to the fact that “by the early 17th century, the area had acquired a reputation as a fashionable place to live (playwrights Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare had homes there, as did artist Anthony van Dyke)” (59).
Eastward Ho was performed for the first time at the Blackfriars Theatre in 1605 by the company of boy actors known as the Children of Her Majesty’s Revels.The play makes metatheatrical references to the space of the playhouse in Act 5, with Quicksilver conflating the space of the city streets and the theatrical space filled with an audience. Quicksilver imagines that the seated audience are people looking out of their houses onto the street, as if they were watching a street Pageant.
Quicksilver: “Stay, sir, I perceive the multitude are gathered together to view our coming out at the Counter. See, if the streets and the fronts of the houses be not stuck with people, and the windows filled with ladies, as on the solemn day of the Pageant” (5.5.1-6)
The Roaring Girl
The reference to Blackfriars in The Roaring Girl is to the area rather than the theatre: more specifically to the landing stage at Blackfriars Stairs where Sir Alexander thinks his son and Moll have fled to.
Sir Alexander: “Delay no time, sweet gentlemen: to Blackfriars!
We’ll take a pair of oars and make after ’em”