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Q: Meaning of the word "theater" ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Meaning of the word "theater"
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: jimen-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 10 Aug 2005 06:24 PDT
Expires: 09 Sep 2005 06:24 PDT
Question ID: 553948
Why is the area where surgery takes place in  a hospital called "the
theater"? What is the historical background to this use of the word?
Subject: Re: Meaning of the word "theater"
Answered By: nenna-ga on 10 Aug 2005 08:20 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Good morning jimen and thank you for the question!

According to, an (operating) theatre is defined as follows:

?A room in a hospital equipped for the performance of surgical operations?.


As one who used to work in a medical training facility, I would
imagine it was called a theater in that many students and curiosity
seekers would gather to watch an operation and learn.  Medical
students go through many different clinical rotations in their
schooling and sometimes watching a surgery is as close as they will
get to the actual surgery.  I did find something on the net that
supported my theory:

?Operating theatres were so-called in the United Kingdom because they
traditionally consisted of semi-circular amphitheatres to allow
students to observe the medical procedures.?

Source: )

?A description of the students packing the Theatre to witness an
operation has been left by a St Thomas surgeon, John Flint South.

     The first two rows ... were occupied by the other dressers, and behind a 
     second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a barrel, but 
     not so quiet, as those behind them were continually pressing on those 
     before and were continually struggling to relieve themselves of it, and 
     had not infrequently to be got out exhausted. There was also a continual 
     calling out of "Heads, Heads" to those about the table whose heads 
     interfered with the sightseers. 

Patients put up with the audience to their distress because they
received medical treatment from some of the best surgeons in the land,
which otherwise they could not afford. Wealthy patients of the
surgeons would have been operated on, by choice, at home, probably on
the kitchen table.?


The Old Operating Theatre in London is one of the oldest, dating back
to 1822.  It?s website, which details the history of the operating
theatre and takes you on a panoramic tour, can be viewed at:

( ) 

If this answer requires further explanation, please request
clarification before rating it, and I'll be happy to look into this

Google Answers Researcher

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( :// )
jimen-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
A fascinating answer! I am from the U.K. originally and have seen
films in which the sort of set up you enviage took place while it was
fiction, obviously they were well researched. My congratulations!

Subject: Re: Meaning of the word "theater"
From: nenna-ga on 10 Aug 2005 11:03 PDT
Thank you very much for the wonderful rating and comment.  If you need
anything else, please let me know!


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