Sheldonian Theatre
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Sheldonian Theatre, located in
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...
, England, was built from 1664 to 1669 after a design by
Christopher Wren Sir Christopher Wren President of the Royal Society, PRS Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS (; – ) was one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history, as well as an anatomist, astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist. ...
for the
University of Oxford The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the List of oldest universit ...
. The building is named after
Gilbert Sheldon Gilbert Sheldon (19 June 1598 – 9 November 1677) was an English religious leader who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1663 until his death. Early life Sheldon was born in Stanton, Staffordshire in the parish of Ellastone, on 19 J ...
, chancellor of the University at the time and the project's main financial backer. It is used for music concerts, lectures and University ceremonies, but not for drama until 2015 when the Christ Church Dramatic Society staged a production of ''
The Crucible ''The Crucible'' is a 1953 play by American playwright Arthur Miller. It is a dramatized and Non-fiction novel, partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692–93. Miller wr ...
'' by
Arthur Miller Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright, essayist and screenwriter in the 20th-century Theater in the United States, American theater. Among his most popular plays are ''All My Sons'' (1947), ...
.


History

What came to be known as the Sheldonian Theatre was Wren's second work and was commissioned by Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury. With the triumph of the Restoration and with it the
Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is the State religion, established List of Christian denominations, Christian church in England and the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church record ...
, Dean Fell,
Vice-Chancellor A chancellor is a leader of a college or university, usually either the executive or ceremonial head of the university or of a university campus within a university system. In most Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth and former Commonwealth n ...
of the University, sought to revive a project proposed in the 1630s by the late
William Laud William Laud (; 7 October 1573 – 10 January 1645) was a bishop in the Church of England. Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Charles I of England, Charles I in 1633, Laud was a key advocate of Caroline era#Religion, Charles I's religious re ...
,
Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop A bishop is an ordained clergy member who is entrusted with a position of Episcopal polity, authority and oversight in a religious institution. In Christianity, bishops are normally resp ...
: a separate building whose sole use would be graduation and degree ceremonies. In the past these increasingly rowdy occasions had taken place in the
University Church of St Mary the Virgin The University Church of St Mary the Virgin (St Mary's or SMV for short) is an Oxford church situated on the north side of the High Street, Oxford, High Street. It is the centre from which the University of Oxford grew and its parish consists alm ...
, in the High Street. "The notion that 'sacrifice is made equally to God and
Apollo Apollo, grc, Ἀπόλλωνος, Apóllōnos, label=genitive , ; , grc-dor, Ἀπέλλων, Apéllōn, ; grc, Ἀπείλων, Apeílōn, label=Arcadocypriot Greek Arcadocypriot, or southern Achaeans (tribe), Achaean, was an ancient ...
', in the same place where homage was due to God and God alone, was as repugnant to Fell and his colleagues as it had been to Laud"; Tinniswood, Adrian, ''His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren'' (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 102 with this in mind they approached the Archbishop of Canterbury Gilbert Sheldon, for his blessing, his assistance, and a donation. Sheldon was forthcoming with all three. He initially gave an impressive £1,000 (£ today) and pledged to gather the needed money from like-minded sponsors. He had little luck, however, and ultimately financed nearly the entire £14,470 (£ today) himself, in an age where a mid-level craftsman's wage was typically between £2 and £4 per year. Wren's initial designs for the Sheldonian probably included a
proscenium A proscenium ( grc-gre, προσκήνιον, ) is the metaphorical vertical plane of space in a theatre, usually surrounded on the top and sides by a physical proscenium arch (whether or not truly "arched") and on the bottom by the stage floor ...
stage that did not survive his revisions. The building that was constructed was a sharp, unmistakable break from the Gothic past. According to Wren's son, Wren designed the Sheldonian based on Serlio's sixteenth-century engraving of the D-shaped
Theatre of Marcellus The Theatre of Marcellus ( la, Theatrum Marcelli, it, Teatro di Marcello) is an ancient open-air theatre in Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus (Romulus and Remus, leg ...
erected in Rome in the first century BC. Like any Mediterranean theatre of that time, the Theatre of Marcellus had no roof: the audience relied on a temporary awning for inclement weather. But 17th century Oxford was not ancient Rome, and the Theatre needed a permanent roof. The span of the D-shaped roof was over . However, no timbers existed that were long enough to cross that distance, and Wren dismissed the obvious solution of a Gothic roof. Instead, he decided to use the "geometrical flat floor" grid developed twenty years before by Oxford professor
John Wallis John Wallis (; la, Wallisius; ) was an English clergyman and mathematician who is given partial credit for the development of infinitesimal calculus. Between 1643 and 1689 he served as chief cryptographer for Parliament of the United Kingdom, ...
. It involved
...creating a series of trusses which were built up from shorter section and held in place by their own weight, with help from judiciously placed iron bolts and plates... effective as the roofthat for nearly a century the University Press stored its books... and for many years it was the largest unsupported floor in existence...
In 1720, surveyors inspecting the roof, following a rumour that it was no longer safe, were both surprised and impressed at what they discovered. Though sagging slightly from the massive weight of books, the inspectors pronounced that "...the whole Fabrick of the said Theatre is, in our Opinion, like yto remain and continue in such Repair and Condition, for one hundred or two hundred Years yet to come." In November 2008 a four-year project to restore the ceiling fresco was completed. The thirty-two oil on canvas panels originally painted by King Charles II’s court painter, Robert Streater, were removed and conserved. As part of the conservation process, the panels had their linings replaced, holes in the canvas mended, and over-painting removed. The allegorical story depicted in the paintings shows Truth descending upon the Arts and Sciences and expelling ignorance from the University.


Building

The building has a prominent eight-sided
cupola In architecture, a cupola () is a relatively small, most often dome-like, tall structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome. The word derives, via Italian langu ...
in the centre of the roof, which is accessible via a staircase leading to the dome over the main ceiling. The cupola has large windows on all sides, providing views across central Oxford, and is open to visitors. The theatre is used for music recitals, lectures (such as the annual Romanes Lecture), conferences, and for various ceremonies held by the University (such as graduation and
matriculation Matriculation is the formal process of entering a university A university () is an educational institution, institution of higher education, higher (or Tertiary education, tertiary) education and research which awards academic degrees in sev ...
).
Handel George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel (; baptised , ; 23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759) was a German-British Baroque music, Baroque composer well known for his opera#Baroque era, operas, oratorios, anthems, concerto grosso, concerti grossi, ...
conducted the first performance of his third
oratorio An oratorio () is a large musical composition for orchestra, choir, and solo (music), soloists. Like most operas, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an instrumental ensemble, various distinguishable Fictional character, characters ...
'' Athalia'' here in 1733. Today, the theatre is home to regular performances by local groups, including the Oxford Philomusica and
Stornoway Stornoway (; gd, Steòrnabhagh; sco, Stornowa) is the main town of the Western Isles and the capital of Lewis and Harris in Scotland. The town's population is around 6,953, making it by far the largest town in the Outer Hebrides, as well a ...
. The latter was the first pop band to play in the space, joined by the student-led Oxford Millennium Orchestra for its first single launch in 2009, then again to celebrate the launch of its third LP, in 2014. The building seats between 800 and 1000 people and is on the grounds of part of the
Bodleian Library The Bodleian Library () is the main research library of the University of Oxford, and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great ph ...
adjacent to Broad Street. To the left at the front is the
Clarendon Building Clarendon Building is an early 18th-century Neoclassical architecture, neoclassical building of the University of Oxford. It is in Broad Street, Oxford, Broad Street, Oxford, England, next to the Bodleian Library and the Sheldonian Theatre and ne ...
and to the right is the Old Ashmolean Building. Behind the Sheldonian is the
Divinity School A seminary, school of theology, theological seminary, or divinity school is an educational institution for educating students (sometimes called ''seminarians'') in scripture, theology, generally to prepare them for ordination to serve as clergy, ...
. The theatre is a Grade I
listed building In the United Kingdom, a listed building or listed structure is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, in Wales, and the Northern Irel ...
which was first added to the list on the 12th January 1954. The theatre features prominently in
Max Beerbohm Sir Henry Maximilian Beerbohm (24 August 1872 – 20 May 1956) was an English essayist, parodist and caricaturist under the signature Max. He first became known in the 1890s as a dandy A dandy is a man who places particular importance upon ...
's 1911 novel '' Zuleika Dobson'' and was used as stand in for
Harvard Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636 as Harvard College and named for its first benefactor, the History of the Puritans in North America, Puritan clergyman John Harvard ...
in the 1980 film '' Heaven's Gate''. File:Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford.jpg, Façade File:Oxford Matriculation 2003.jpg, Interior prior to a matriculation ceremony, 2003 File:Sheldonian Oxford - 19580473902.jpg, View from the east, behind the
Clarendon Building Clarendon Building is an early 18th-century Neoclassical architecture, neoclassical building of the University of Oxford. It is in Broad Street, Oxford, Broad Street, Oxford, England, next to the Bodleian Library and the Sheldonian Theatre and ne ...


See also

* Holywell Music Room * Oxford Bach Choir * Oxford University Big Band * Oxford Philomusica * Stornoway (band)


References


External links

* {{Authority control 1669 establishments in England Buildings and structures completed in 1668 Christopher Wren buildings Concert halls in England Culture in Oxford Grade I listed buildings in Oxford Grade I listed theatres Buildings and structures of the University of Oxford Music in Oxford Music venues in Oxfordshire Theatres in Oxford Tourist attractions in Oxford