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a brief history of theatre in bristol

1 - beginnings

Marshfield mummer in costume, circa 1930 
In the middle ages, Bristolians celebrated religious feasts with elaborate mystery and miracle plays performed by the craft guilds on pageant wagons. No specific details of the mystery plays performed seem to have survived in Bristol, but records of payments made for such performances are to be found in the accounts of the Common Council. If they followed the pattern of those in other towns then they would have been very elaborate productions, with water effects, firecrackers, thunder sheets and spectacular costumes. In nearby rural districts mummers plays were performed to mark the passing of the seasons. A famous one which still survives today is performed at Marshfield, ten miles north east of the city.
Painting of medieval players - source unknown 
By the sixteenth century there were regular visits of travelling players such as Lord Leicester's men, the Earl of Baths' men and Lord Berkeley's men. It is possible that Shakespeare was one of the visiting actors. They almost certainly performed in the courtyards of inns and they had to get a licence from the Mayor. In 1617 an account book of Queen Elizabeth's Hospital school has the following entry: "rent of playhouse in Wyne Street, £1 10 shillings". The rise of Puritanism saw all plays stopped under Cromwell's rule in the middle of the seventeenth century, and even after the Restoration, the city fathers retained an animosity for theatre.
more history:
2 - the first theatres : 3 - twentieth century