The early modern playhouse acted as a space of discovery by presenting new knowledge, asking us to question what and how we know, and staging the process of knowing by deploying the theatre’s own physical geography and versatile properties. It also found ways of bypassing censorship to address social and political issues, and associated forbidden knowledges, through fiction. In Elizabethan London, attitudes to drama could be mixed. Play-going was a popular pastime across a broad social spectrum, enjoyed by members of the nobility (including the Queen) and commoners alike. On the other hand, some Puritan writers were hostile to public performances, seeing them as a sinful, lascivious distraction from more pious occupations.
The significance of the vibrant theatrical culture of London to the everyday life of the city and its power over popular imagination is attested by the anxiety expressed by anti-theatrical voices throughout the period. Between the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the Restoration in 1660, these voices gained strength, as Parliament ordered the closure of all London theatres – an edict which was not universally followed, but which had an enormous effect nonetheless.
The kinds of knowledge represented by the playhouses throughout the early modern period, then, were potentially dangerous or subversive.