Shakespeare And His Theater
Compared to the technical theaters of today, the London
public theaters in the time of Queen Elizabeth I seem to be
terribly limited. The plays had to be performed during
daylight hours only and the stage scenery had to be kept
very simple with just a table, a chair, a throne, and maybe
a tree to symbolize a forest. Many say that these
limitations were in a sense advantageous. What the theater
today can show for us realistically, with massive scenery
and electric lighting, Elizabethan playgoers had to
imagine. This forced the playwright to write in a vivid
language so the audience could fully understand the play.
Not having a lighting technician to work the control
panels, Shakespeare had to indicate whether it was dawn or
nightfall by using a speech rich in metaphors and
Shakespeare's theater was far from being bare, the
playwright did have some valuable technical sources that he
used to the best of his ability. The costumes the actors
wore were made to be very elaborate. Many of the costumes
conveyed recognizable meanings for the audience such as a
rich aristocrat wearing silk clothes with many ruffles.
Many times there were musical accompaniments and sound
effects such as gunpowder explosions and the beating of a
pan to simulate thunder. The stage itself was also
remarkably versatile. Behind it were doors for exits and
entrances and a curtained booth or alcove useful for actors
to hide inside. Above the stage was a higher acting area
which symbolized a porch or balcony. This was useful in the
story of Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo stood below Juliet
and told her how he loved her. In the stage floor was a
trap door which was said to lead to "hell" or a cellar,
this was especially useful for ghosts or devils who had to
appear and disappear throughout the play. The stage itself
was shaped in a rectangular platform that projected into a
yard that was enclosed by three story galleries. The
building was round or octagonal in shape but Shakespeare
called it a "wooden O." The audience sat in these galleries
or else they could stand in the yard in front the stage. A
roof and awning protected the stage and the high-priced
gallery seats, but in case of bad weather, the
"groundlings," who only paid a penny to stand in the yard,
must have gotten wet.
The Globe theater was built by a theatrical company to
which Shakespeare belonged. The Globe theater, was the most
popular of all the Elizabethan theaters. It was not in the
city itself, but on the south bank of the Thames River.
This location had been chosen because in 1574, public plays
had been banished from the city by an ordinance that blamed
them for corrupting the youth and promoting prostitution.
A playwright had to please all members of the audience.
This explains the wide range of topics in Elizabethan
plays. Many plays included passages of subtle poetry, of
deep philosophy, and scenes of terrible violence.
Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright, so he new
well what his audience wanted to see. The companies offered
as many as thirty plays a season, customarily changing the
programs daily. The actors thus had to hold many parts in
their heads, which may account for Elizabethan playwrights'
blank verse writing style.
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