The construction of the new stage involved building up the surface to a new level with a sub-floor (albeit earthen rather than screed) at 1.0m OD. This would leave a very shallow area beneath the stage of 4ft 4.75in (1.34m), which, Bowsher and Miller suggest, although not entirely unusable for access to and from a trapdoor would have been rather uncomfortable.281

Henslowe’s papers can tell us something about which plays were most frequently performed at the Rose in the 1590s. Of those whose texts are extant, some of the playsintended for the post-1591/2 Rose playhouse might suggest use of a trapdoor.282 Of those texts, some are published long after the performance—whereby the text may have been altered or edited, stage directions added, etc.—but others are published within the lifetime of the theatre and in living memory of those who may have attended:

The Spanish Tragedy perhaps calls for use of a trap when at the end of the play Revenge says ‘This hand shall hale them down to deepest hell,/ where none but furies, bugs and tortures dwell,’ then descends into it: ‘Then haste me downe to meet thy freends and foes,/ To place thy freends in ease, the rest in woes.’ Gurr and Don Rowan agree this may suggest descent of man/Andrea into hell through a trap.283 Michael Hattaway disputes this, suggesting ‘the Ghost and Andrea are on the balcony ‘above,’ which would make the descent at the end down to the main stage.’284

A Knack to Know a Knave (1594 [1592-93]) has Dunston conjure a devil: ‘Asmoroth ascende, veni Asmoroth, Asmoroth veni. Enter the Devill.’285 Whilst the Devil may have emerged through a trapdoor, as if from the underworld, it is equally feasible that the performer simply emerged from a stage door on ‘veni’ (‘enter’) and exited with Dunston the same way. An episode earlier gives,
Bayl:…Soule, be thou safe, and bodie flie to hell. He dyeth.
Enters Devil, and carrie him away.286

It’s possible the trap was the point of exit to hell here, too; although halfway through a scene, it’s not clear when the performers would be able to escape the under-stage area unless there was a passage under the stage and into the tiring house. Of course, they may just have exited through a stage door.

William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, 2:3, has Martius and Quintus (‘two of Titus sonnes’) fall into a pit which needed to be shallow enough for them to stand and talk from it at some length about their discovery of the dead body of Bassianus, which is never revealed. The brothers are taken out of the pit and marched away at the end of the scene.287

The anonymous Look About You (1600) features two men who fall into a hole in the ground (‘Jo. There are caves heereabout good fellow, are there not? /Ski. Yes sir, tread the ground sir, & you shal heare their hollownes’) and are robbed (‘Prince John put up your pursse, or ile throw ponniards downe upon your pate.’), but they climb out and escape (‘Lend me your hand a little, come away’).288

Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene’s A Looking Glass for London and England includes a possible indication that a trap featured—when a stage direction to make a whole arbour rise up (‘The Magi with their rods beate the ground, and from under the same riseth a brave Arbour’) and, later, when ‘a flame of fire appeareth from beneath, and Radagon is swallowed’289—which, Gurr suggests, implies a big trap, ‘if we are to take serious note of the stage direction … Maybe this was the author being hopeful rather than a book-keeper recording the Rose’s staging, of course. But the quantity of trees in Henslowe’s inventories makes you wonder.’290

In Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (the earliest surviving edition was printed in 1633), Gurr suspects that ‘Henslowe’s note “I caudern for the Jewe” [i.e., one cauldron for The Jew of Malta], the iconic hell-mouth which Barabas disappears into at the end of the play, refers to a property which must have been positioned in [over?] the trap, since the trapdoor was the traditional entry point and also exit-point for hell and its devils.’291

The absence of more qualitative as well as quantitative evidence does not confirm its non-existence, of course, although it is entirely possible that Phase II stage was without a trapdoor.

The stage, Phase II © De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. To view the image using Google Cardboard, click here.

The archaeology gives only a tantalising clue. Bowsher and Miller note that a ‘wealth of material’ was discovered deposited on the Phase II sub-stage floor surface including items that may have been accidentally lost through the stage boards by performers, such as a cheap wire ring and a glass pendant. Other items, however, suggest the sub-stage area was used either to store or to dump items, mainly vessels.292 During the rebuilding of the Boar’s Head in 1599, rather than dismantle and rebuild the stage, it was decided to move it 6ft westward, but, Berry notes, ‘the stage could not be moved until rubbish thrown under it during its first year had been taken.’293 The presence of significant deposits of debris at the later Rose playhouse suggests, at least, there was access to the under-stage area. If it were used by performers, the area seems to have been dual purpose—storage space at the Rose was at a premium after all.

What isn’t clear from the play texts themselves is whether a performer using the trapdoor had access under the stage, through the rear stage wall (inner wall foundation) and up through a trap into the tiring house.

Jon Greenfield thinks that access from under the stage to the tiring house ‘is the only plausible way I can see the trap functioning—someone going to the under-stage from the tiring under-croft, or coming out in the tiring house from the under-stage, otherwise they would emerge somewhere visible to the audience, somewhat spoiling the dramatic effect. To make access through the gallery footings and cill beam, which is what would be needed to get this access to work, is a very simple adaptation.’294

Bowsher is less convinced that such an adaptation would be ‘simple’: ‘As far as we could tell, the rear stage foundation walls would probably prevent access from under the tiring house to under the stage.’295 He continues, ‘the foundations of that wall are very thick and although truncated by time, I assume that it rose just above ground level where it was overlain by the superstructure which was largely timber. It would be possible I guess for a ‘hole’ to be cut into the foundations to create an access passage—but I really don’t think they would have done that, in any case they would have to almost crawl through.’296

Rutter concludes that less than 4 ft of height under the stage would preclude the presence of a trap.297 Bowsher and Miller state that ‘construction of the phase II stage involved building up the surface to a new level with a sub-floor (albeit earthen rather than screed) at 1.0m OD,’ laid down in order to cover the foundations of the Phase I stage front wall and to level out the Phase I yard, which has a 5 degree slope towards the north.298 In Phase I, the under-stage area had a height of about 1.63m (assuming it was built at the same level as the lowest gallery floor). In Phase II, if the same level was maintained—given that the whole southern half of the building remained unaltered—the height would have been reduced to a mere 1.32m (4.33ft) because the sub-stage had been raised by 0.40m.

If the Phase II stage was built with no compensation for the raised sub-floor, a performer of average height in the late sixteenth-century descending through the trap would have had to stoop or crawl under the stage. The archaeology challenges Rhodes’ assertion that the Rose had ‘a space beneath the stage, high enough and wide enough to permit people to move about and handle large stage properties.’299

None of the plays noted above suggest that, were a trap used, access between the tiring house and under-stage area is needed—those characters that fall into a pit get out again (so exit and entrance points are through the stage doors), and those characters that descend to hell do so at the end of the play and so can exit the same way once the play has finished. Nor do these plays suggest that the stage needed to be raised above the floor level of the lower gallery to furnish a larger under-stage area for people to move around nor for properties to be accommodated.

Bowsher and Miller propose that ‘[p]erhaps the stage of the second Rose was built at a higher level than the first, raised by the same amount as the yard was raised, and possibly a little more [fig. 88]. If this was the case, then it implies Henslowe introduced a separate tiring house in 1592, and did not just hive off some of the arena bays as he had in Phase I. In Phase II, if the stage area and tiring house, and possibly also Gentlemen’s rooms either side of the stage, were partitioned off and the floor level raised by the same amount as the subfloor to add 0.40m, a sub-stage height of 1.72m could be created.

The average height of an adult man in this period was 5ft 7.25in or 1.71m.,300 so the following gives a scale comparison of the under-stage heights:

Fig. 88: The relative heights of the stage in Phase II, given the under stage floor was raised, if (left) the stage was built to be level with the galleries in Phase I, or (right) if the stage was raised by the same amount as the Phase II sub-floor (0.40m)


This raising of the stage wouldn’t have been necessary if performers were prepared to tolerate less than comfortable conditions below the stage. It is certainly possible that the height of the stage had been increased to 5ft or more (the same dimension given for the Red Lion which had ‘a certayne space or voyde part of the same stage [was] left unboarded’). Whether Henslowe’s design for the new, altered norther half included raising and cordoning off the tiring house and Lord’s room to form a separate space unified with the stage isn’t known. Greenfield concludes: ‘Everything is possible, not everything is sensible,’ and thinks,

the stage being set at the level of the lower gallery floor  is the most plausible as an architectural principle, but of course we don’t know for certain.
The brickwork would likely have remained at the same level for Phase II as for Phase I; Phase II uses at least 50% of Phase I (the southern portion). It is most probable that the re-built portions would have built the brick footings up to the same height as the existing brickwork, and set the new sill beams so that they tied in with the existing ones. There are very many practical reasons why it is very helpful to have the stage and lower gallery decking at the same level, such as:
* It makes remodelling the backstage area much easier.
* It gives a good relationship between the gentleman’s boxes either side of the stage.
* It makes it much easier for Gentlemen to get to the boxes from the backstage.
My strong vote is to have the stage level running through to be a flat floor throughout the lower gallery (interrupted by the yard entrances, of course). I do think it was very wet and muddy at times in the yard—the under-stage would probably have been quite dank.301

He continues,

My thinking comes from understanding the budgets, listed in Henslowe’s Diary, and an understanding of the layouts. To keep the modifications to an affordable level, Henslowe was (in my view) aiming to retain half of the building with minimum modification (the southern half). Otherwise he might as well have knocked the whole thing down and started again. He therefore needed the new north portion to fit with the retained south portion, which is why I believe that the main dimension of phase one (cill heights etc) would have been the same in phase 2. The resulting under-stage height of c. 1.3m isn’t too difficult a ‘stoop,’ provided there are no lower obstructions (under-stage beams).302

[281] Bowsher and Miller, The Rose and the Globe, 118. For a diagram of the relative heights of the stage, yard surface and sub-stage floor, see also Bowsher, ‘The Rose and its Stages,’ 42, diag. 12.

[282] For discussion of the plays that may have been staged at the Rose and what they may tell us about the playhouse and stage practices, see Rhodes, Henslowe’s Rose, 14–20; Wickham, ‘“Heavens”, Machinery, and pillars,’1–15; and Gurr, ‘The Rose repertory,’ 119–34.

[283] Gurr, ‘The Rose repertory,’ 129, citing D. F. Rowan. ‘The staging of The Spanish Tragedy,’ in The Elizabethan Theatre, 5th edn, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1975), 112.

[284] Ibid, 129, citing Michael Hattaway, Elizabethan Popular Theatre. Plays in Performance (London: Routledge & Paul Kegan, 1969), 121–31.

[285] Anon. A Knacke to knowe a Knave (London: Richard Jones, 1592), Sig. F4r (STC 2nd 15027). Henslowe records performance of the play by Lord Strange’s Men between June 1592 – January 1593, presumably at the Rose (Foakes, Henslowe’s Diary, 19-20).

[286] Ibid, Sig. B3r.

[287] Shakespeare, The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus, Sig. D4r-E2r.

[288] Rhodes, Henslowe’s Rose,228, suggests this is a Rose play. Anon., Look About You (London: William Ferbrand, 1600), Sig. H1r, (STC 2nd 16799). The title page says ‘lately played’ by the Admirals Men who in c. 1599 were at the Rose, although it is unrecorded in Henslowe’s ‘Diary’.

[289] Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene, A Looking Glasse for London and England(London: Thomas Creede, 1594), Sig. C2v, C4r (STC 2nd 16679). Henslowe records several performances from 8 March to 7 June 1592 by Lord Strange’s Men at the Rose (Foakes, Henslowe’s Diary, 16–17, 19).

[290] Gurr, ‘The Rose repertory,’ 129.

[291] Ibid, 129. Henslowe owned the playbook in 1592 and rented it to various companies. Henslowe records performances between 1592 and 1596 by the Queen’s and Sussex’s Men, presumably at the Rose. It was revived in 1601 as noted in Henslowe’s ‘Diary’ from an entry for payment ‘to bye divers things for the Jewe of malta’; (see Foakes, Henslowe’s Diary, 16–26, 34, 36–37, 47, 170). Henslowe’s inventory of props and costumes for the Lord Admiral’s Men at the Rose on 10 March 1598 (reproduced by Foakes, 321) includes one ‘cauderm,’ (sic) the cauldron in The Jew of Malta.

[292] Bowsher and Miller, The Rose and the Globe,. 60–61.

[293] Herbert Berry, The Boar’s Head Playhouse (Washington: Folger, 1986), 111. Berry’s source is the many documents pertaining to various legal disputes regarding the Boar’s Head playhouse preserved in the records of the Star Chamber, although he neglects to directly cite the document(s) in this particular reference.

[294] Personal correspondence via email, 29 June 2017.

[295] Personal correspondence via email, 6 July 2017.

[296] Personal correspondence via email, 29 June 2017 and 6 July 2017.

[297] Rutter, Documents of the Rose Playhouse, xxii, citing Bowsher, The Rose Theatre, 61

[298] Bowsher and Miller, The Rose and the Globe, 118.

[299] Rhodes, Henslowe’s Rose, 19.

[300] Bowsher, ‘The Rose and its Stages,’ 42; relative height data was provided by MOLA’s osteologists, who have measured a huge number of human remains from cemetery excavations, from Roman to Victorian, providing clear data for average heights of men and women throughout the period.

[301] Personal correspondence via email, 26 July 2017.

[302] Personal correspondence via email, 17 July 2017.