The Fortune Playhouse

The Fortune Theatre was not built by Philip Henslowe until 1600, and so does not appear on the Agas Map (first printed 1560). Consequently its approximate location is marked on the map. From the records kept by Henslowe we know that his financial partner was the well-known actor Edward Alleyn, and that “the overall structure was eighty feet square and cost £520” (Chalfant, 83). The first Fortune Theatre burnt down in 1621, was rebuilt with brick walls, and then finally vandalised by Puritans in 1649.

The Roaring Girl

The Roaring Girl was first acted at the Fortune in February 1612. The Middlesex County Records describes the Fortune’s clientele as “divers cutt-purses and other lewde and ill disposed persons in great multitudes doe resort thither at th’end of euerye playe many tymes causinge tumultes and outrages” (qutd. in Mulholland, 84). One would imagine that Moll Cutpurse would fit into this chaotic environment rather well.

There are several references to the Fortune Theatre in the text of The Roaring Girl, indicating that the play was written specifically for that theatre. Sir Alexander’s speech in Act 1 deliberately conflates the imagined space of his house with the galleries and audience of the Fortune. There are also references to the cutpurses and villains prowling through the audience, indicating that playwrights, actors, and audience alike were aware of the Fortune’s slightly unsavoury reputation.

Quotations:

“a roaring girl, whose notes till now never were,
Shall fill with laughter our vast theatre” (Prologue, 9-10)

Sir Alexander: “Nay, when you look into my galleries –
How bravely they are trimmed up – all you shall swear
You’re highly pleased to see what’s set down there:
Stories of men and women, mixed together
Fair ones with foul, like sunshine in wet weather –
Within one square a thousand heads are laid
So close that all of heads the room seems made;
As many faces there, filled with blithe looks,
Show like the promising titles of new books
Writ merrily, the readers being their own eyes,
Which seem to move and give plaudities;
And here and there, whilst with obsequious ears
Thronged heaps do listen, a cutpurse thrusts and leers
With hawks eyes for his prey” (1.2.14-27)

Moll Cutpurse: “A diver with two fingers: a pickpocket. All his train study the figging-law, that’s to say, cutting off purses and foisting. One of them is a nip: I took him once i’ the twopenny gallery at the Fortune” (5.1.281-284)