Thursday, 7 April 2011

How Much Bottom Space Do You Need?

Ah well, the hay fever season is here again and this is clearly going to be a bad year. So, until my little blue miracle pills begin to kick in, my posts may be a bit on the short side, as too much working with a screen tends to start my eyes watering with a vengeance. I did, however want to share with you the beautiful architectural designs that you can see to your left. These are going to be used as the basis for the Globe Theatre Company's new indoor theatre intended to mirror Blackfriars, the winter home of Shakespeare's Company from 1608 onwards.

The designs were discovered in Worcester College Oxford and probably date from around 1660. I was privileged to be at a seminar last week where Professor Andrew Gurr, the leading scholar in the study of Shakespeare's theatres, company and audiences, presented these to us and talked about what we could learn from them about the theatres of the time. One of the most interesting points he made was that these theatres were clearly designed for listening rather than seeing. As a result, the best seats in the house were those over the stage, on the stage itself, and in the side boxes; exactly the opposite of what you would expect today. In exploring this in greater detail in order to work out what the audience capacity would be, they have come to the interesting conclusion that if you were a Lord you were allowed 2' 6'' bottom space, if you were a Lady you got 2', but if you were like me, a mere pleb, then you had to squeeze yourself into a paltry 18". As someone I was telling yesterday remarked, "Just like travelling by plane then". There are somethings about human nature that simply never change.



  1. Fascinating plans for the Blackfriars theatre. It must have been a really interesting seminar. Funny that the ladies were given less bottom room than the men!

  2. Leah, I could say that the gentlemen's bottoms must have been as big as their egos, but would I dream of doing such a thing......

  3. Those plans ARE beautiful. And fascinating about the reversal of seating priorities then vs. now. Do you know when the preference shifted from best spot for hearing to best spot for seeing? One is tempted to blame movies, of course, but I can also imagine it happening with the rise of ballet and other concert dance. Or maybe it has more to do with improved acoustics...

  4. I empathise with you on the Hayfever front. I hope it passes soon.
    Beautiful plans and such interesting information. Thank you :-)

  5. Emily, it really needs a separate post to answer your question fully, but the short answer is that this was probably the last theatre designed in this way. By 1661 Killigrew and Davenant were adapting theatres to reflect what they had learnt about the possibilities of scenery from the Court Masques and from Continental opera. By 1663 Killigrew had had a purpose built theatre with magnificent provision for spectacle built on the site of the present Drury Lane Theatre. It's taken us over three hundred years to relearn that what we hear in the theatre is as important as what see.

    Christina, thank goodness for little blue miracle pills!

  6. Now you've got me wanting to measure my bottom - though, on second thoughts, perhaps I'd rather not.

    I love hearing info like this - fascinating how many assumptions we can make based on our own experience of the world that just aren't right. Fancy going to a play mainly to listen? Hmm ... that doesn't sound so silly really, but you know what I mean.

  7. I just measured...18 inches may leave some of us a bit squeezed out - ahem.

  8. What a lovely drawing. I don't think they make so nice these days. And how interesting about the seating. I laughed at the airplane comment. some things never change, eh? My sympathies to you regarding your hay fever. Mine is going strong at the moment too. No hay fever is one of the few redeeming things about winter.

  9. WG, I do indeed know what you mean. One of the points that Andrew Gurr made was how difficult it is for a modern actor to work in a theatre designed in this way because we are all so used to acting for the visual through the medium of television and cinema.

    Grad, you have more courage than I do. I wouldn't dare measure to find out!

    Stefanie, there is a real beauty there isn't there? As to the hay fever question, tell your doctor you want little blue miracle pills. They really work for me.

  10. I hope you feel better! Allergies are NO FUN. How fascinating to learn about theater design and how some theaters have very different priorities than ours do today.

  11. Hi Annie,

    Allergies are out in abundance, just now.

    I only tend to get allergies from trees, I'm okay with grass and flowers. This time of year, when the leaves are just opening and are sticky with sap, is the worst, it tends to ease off later in the season.

    Reading your interesting post about bottom sizes, we won't mention my own at this time!!!, reminds me of an article on one of the news channels one day last week, only the article in question related to the size of train seats.

    The reporter was out and about in a town and had a group of people stand together, whilst he measured the regulatory 18" seat size. Most of them had to lose at laest one limb, to fit comfortably!!!


  12. Thank you, Dorothy. Little blue miracle pills working nicely!

    Yvonne, yes it's tree pollen that does it to me as well. Living in the middle of a wood is probably not the wisest decision of my life. I hadn't thought about train seats, but of course, you're right. Shylock would have had a field day, wouldn't he:)