Why did the Puritans close down the Old Globe Theater in 1642?

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The Old Globe theatre was built in 1599, late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and William Shakespeare was one of the investors.

The theater didn't last half a century. In 1642, it was closed, and in 1644, it was torn down.

The September 1642 closure of all theaters...

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The Old Globe theatre was built in 1599, late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and William Shakespeare was one of the investors.

The theater didn't last half a century. In 1642, it was closed, and in 1644, it was torn down.

The September 1642 closure of all theaters in England shows how powerful Puritans in parliament had become by that time. The ordinance closing the theaters justified doing so by calling them places of "lascivious [sexual] Mirth and Levity." They seemed to the Puritans very much a symptom of the cultural lies and depravity that were undermining the moral fabric of the country, starting with the king, Charles I, and moving down to the people. Since theaters were popular and since, according to Puritan thinking, they could potentially spread frivolous lies and papist propaganda amongst the population, they needed to be closed.

The above can sound silly—what was wrong with those Puritans to be so grim that they wanted to deny ordinary people the right to see a play or have a good laugh?—but the context was social breakdown and civil war. The Puritans were frightened to their core that the Irish Catholics would invade England, and working with Charles I, massacre the Puritans. They wanted to survive and win as the country broke down into rival factions—and that meant cutting off as much as possible any avenue for royalist sentiments to be heard.

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The theater had long been considered a place of ill repute. This was true at least as far back as ancient Rome but was especially the case in Elizabethan England. It was seen as a bad influence on people for a number of reasons. For example, before the days of strong artificial lighting, plays were performed during the daytime, when people could otherwise be working and contributing to society. Also, prostitutes were frequently found in and near theaters. People gambled at theaters. Theaters were rowdy places and were seen as a distraction from productive pursuits. They were even a health hazard that contributed to the spread of disease with so many people all gathered together in one place.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Puritans greatly opposed the theater. The Puritans were religious fundamentalists who believed in a strong work ethic and a strict no-nonsense approach to religion. To them, the theater was not only a distraction, but a den of vice, decadence, and sin.

By the early 1640s, the Puritans were gaining significant political influence in England. In 1642, a sizable Puritan faction gained seats in Parliament. They wasted little time in passing a number of laws with the goal of reforming the moral code of the country. One of their first actions was to close the theaters in England, including the Globe.

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The Puritans had existed in England since the reign of Mary I (1553-1558). Mary cracked down on Protestants and briefly restored Roman Catholicism to England. After Elizabeth I became Queen in 1558, the Puritans gained more power in England. Their goal was, as their name suggests, to purify the Church of England of all traces of Roman Catholicism. In 1641, members of Parliament who were opponents of King Charles I (who was suspected of practicing Roman Catholicism) presented him with a set of demands called the Grand Remonstrance. The Grand Remonstrance was proposed by John Pym, who was a devout Puritan and who was opposed to Roman Catholicism. The passage of the Grand Remonstrance by the House of Commons in 1641 showed the power of the Puritan faction in Parliament. In 1642, the Puritans in Parliament passed a law that suppressed the production of plays. Puritans felt that the theatre was an ungodly place, and they were perhaps also wary of entertainments that would take people away from church. The Globe Theatre drew their wrath, as it was known not only as a theatre but as a gathering place for drinkers, prostitutes, and thieves. In 1642, the Puritans ordered the Globe Theatre closed, and it was destroyed in 1644. 

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The Puritans opposed all forms of entertainment. They believed in a very strict code of conduct and "deplored any kind of finery or flippant behaviors". In 1642, the Puritans came to powerin Parliment, dethroned the king and eventually, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England. One of their first acts was to begin demolishing theaters. The Old Globe was among the first to be destroyed in 1644. By 1648, all playhouses were ordered demolished. All actors were supposed to be seized and whipped and anyone caught attending a play was fined 5 shillings. This continued until the Restoration of Charles II and in 1660 the theaters opened once again. The Globe, however, was never rebuilt, but in the 20th century its old site was discovered and and new Old Globe Theater has been erected near the original site.

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In 1642 the parliament ordered the theaters to close. The cause of this was that the Puritans had been gaining power and at this point civil war broke out between the parliamentarians--who were Puritan--and the Royalists. The Puritans already had problems with the theater, and saw it as base and feared that the amusement offered there would spread immorality. Once the civil war broke out it was thought that no one should be spending their time with such frivolous things as plays and all of London's theaters were closed. In 1644 it was destroyed for new building space.

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