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 advantages. What the
theater today can show for us realistically, with massive scenery and electric
lighting, Elizabethan playgoers had to imagine. This made the playwright have
to write in a vivid language so the audience could understand the play. Not
having a lighting technician to work the control panels, Shakespeare had to
indicate wether it was dawn or nightfall by using a speech rich in metaphors and
descriptive details. 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 andthe
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 the case 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 in 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 company\'s 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.

Category: English