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History of the Theatre
The Sheldonian Theatre is the principal assembly room of the University, and the regular meeting-place of Congregation, the body of resident Masters of Arts which controls the University's affairs. The building was also originally designed to accommodate the University Press (which subsequently relocated to the neighbouring Clarendon Building in 1713).
The building was constructed between 1664 and 1669, funded by Gilbert Sheldon, Warden of All Souls College and later Archbishop of Canterbury, and was the first major design of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). The name and design of the building was derived from the Roman theatre of Marcellus, as illustrated by Sebastiano Serlio in his Architecture 1540, which was open to the sky.
The original roof also incorporated ingeniously constructed timber trusses and complicated cross beams, supported only by braces and screws, without any columns, spanning the 70 foot (21.34 metres) by 80 foot (24.38 metres) auditorium.
The image below, (from an engraving by David Loggan, dating from 1675), shows the original roof, with its small cupola and ornate, lead-covered elliptical dormer windows.
Wren’s original roof was however re-built by George Saunders, (Architect to Oxford University), in 1802, with the existing cupola being re-designed by Edward Blore in 1838.