The Curtain was one of the very first outdoor public playhouses in London and its set-up and closeness to the James Burbage-led Theatre (only one year later) must have put them in direct competition with each other. Yet unlike the Theatre, plays continued at the Curtain well into the seventeenth century, up to 1625, and it seems it was still standing in 1698. Many companies played in the Curtain, the Chamberlain’s Men using it from 1597 to 1599 when the Theatre’s lease expired, so all of William Shakespeare’s earlier plays were almost certainly performed here, including Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet. The plays of Christopher Marlowe, such as his two parts of Tamburlaine and his Dr Faustus, may well have been staged at the Curtain, and Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy is likely to have been staged here, also in the late 1580s and early 1590s.
However, considering the Curtain was clearly very successful and lasted for many years longer than most other Shakespearean theatres, it is unclear as to how yeoman Henry Lanman opened the playhouse in the 1570s. Likewise nothing is know about the theatre’s owners after this time, through to the end of playing at the venue.
One matter that is clear to us, though, is that in 1585 Lanman and James Burbage agreed to share profits from the Theatre and the Curtain for seven years, so they were not in effect competing with each other at this time. Although the reasons for this deal are slightly unclear, it would appear to stand as evidence for a sense of communal spirit in the playing industry of the Elizabethan period.
Although Stephen Gosson's Playes Confuted, from 1582, does not mention the Curtain itself, his comment below is useful in terms of early playgoing at the time of the second Shoreditch playhouse:
'In the playhouses at London, it is the fashion of youths to go first into the yard, and to carry their eye through every gallery, then like ravens, where they spy the carrion thither they fly, and press as near to the fairest as they can... they give them apples, they dally with their garments to pass the time, they minister talk upon odd occasions, and either bring them home to their houses on small acquaintance, or slip into taverns when the plays are done.'
Similarly, Gosson had this to say a few years later, in his The Trumpet of War from 1596:
‘In public theatres, when any notable show passeth over the stage, the people arise in their seats, and stand upright with delight and eagerness to view it well.’
Lastly, John Marston's 1598 play The Scourge of Villainy mentions the Curtain:
'Luscus, what’s played today? Faith, now I know I set thy lips abroach, from whence doth flow Naught but pure Juliet and Romeo. Say, who act best? Drusus, or Roscio? Now I have him, that ne’er of aught did speak But when of plays or players he did treat. He’th made a commonplace book out of plays, And speaks in print, at least whate’er he says Is warranted by Curtain plaudities.'