When drama first rose in England sometimes in the Middle Ages plays were generally performed in public places like courtyards of inns. The first building specifically designed for drama performances came up in 1576 and was known as The Theatre.
It was a royal prerogative to grant a charter to perform a plug let usually permission was not granted for performance of plays within the city limits, and that is why play-houses were erected out” the city limits, across the Thames. In Shakespeare’s tins lass were probably not more than five public theatres in the laid, all in London, and they were built according to, the design of the in yards of the period, which had been found marvelously convenient places for the presentation of plays. The theatre was circular or octagonal in shape. The main part of the auditorium was the Large round pit, open to the sky, in which the poorer people steed (the ‘groundlings’). Encircling ibis, round the walls, were these balconies, covered on top but not in front (like the ‘stands’ on a football ground), and containing seats. The pace of admission to the pit was one penny, and balcony seats ranged from two pence to two shillings and sixpence, according to their position.
The Elizabethan step was large ; it jutted far into the pit and did not have scenery. Stage properties were few and, the most elementary. Hence it made no difference that people stood at tie side of the stage as well at in front. The scenery was created in go imagination of the audience by the words of the characters ; it was made put of the play, so as not to obtrude and destroy the Moslem of reality. That is why Shakespeare’s plays make such excellent radio broadcasts. As one listens in one’s armchair me has an scenery this is in the words of the play and so is created in one’s mind. The number of scenes in a play did not matter when the stage was without scenery ; consequently a succession of sleet scenes is quite common in Elizabethan drama, though today audiences would become impatient at the constant delays, if every scene involved shifting of scenery and properties.
Effect on the Plays
The Elizabethan stage significantly affected the plays of the
period because many things which can now be indicated by stage
contrivances had then to be managed through the text of the play
itself. Shakespeare’s plays did not originally have any scene
divisions but this is immaterial since what we now regard as scenes
were then acted continuously and there was no ‘scenery’ on the
stage to create a discordant effect. Most Shakespearean plays are
a succession of short scenes, although some, like The Winter’s Tale, are different in this respect. The large number of scenes would
prove bothersome to modern producers who would have to shift
the scenery, which would cause intolerable delays, but there was no
such problem for the Elizabethans. Since there was no curtain to
indicate the ending of a scene, this was frequently done by the use
rhyming, lines. This, however, was not invariable, for in some of
peace’s plays, for example, The Winter’s Tale, the speeches
themselves indicate the ending of a scene. Just as the scenery had
1o be put into the play, so had entrances and exits to be arranged as
part of the play. Today an actor-can get into position before the
rigs of the curtain, but on the open stage it would seem artificial if
as actor walked on and then started his part, or finished the scene
and then walked off. Such endings as Act I Scene II, ‘Come, sir,
away’; Act II: Scene I, ‘Come, follow us’; Act III : Scene I, ‘Go;
fresh horses’ ; Scene II, ‘Come, and lead me to these sorrows’,
dime the stage and at the same time fit in perfectly naturally with the
play. It follows that dead bodies always had to be carried off the stage.
It was sot unknown for the stage floor to be equipped with a trapdoor
for the sudden appearance and disappearance of ghosts and spirits.
Recess and Balconies
The Shakespearean stage had a recess at its back which would be teed for parts f scenes which now carry the stage direction ‘within’. The recess’ would no doubt, contain such objects as the of Hermione The stage direction at the beginning of the scene is The Winter’s Tale (Act V : Scene III) says that the statue is ‘curtained’, and later we are told that ‘Paulina draws back a certain and discovers Hermione standing like a statue’. Hermione was a evidently standing on a pedestal. Above the recess was a balcony –– which served for castle walls, an upper roots, and such-like scenes. It appears that this too could be curtained off. Judging from the way opportunities are made, for balcony scenes in Elizabethan plays people were very fond of them, particularly when there was an escape from the balcony––an upper room, for example––to the pain stage––representing the ground below. The young ‘bloods’ of the day who fancied themselves, actually hired stools round the stage itself. It was a source of continual annoyance to playwrights that loan ‘gagged’ in order to please these aristocratic playgoers, and we find Shakespeare expressing his resentment against such intrusions,: through the advice which Hamlet off to the player-king.
Actors and Acting
In Shakespeare’s time, acting was confined to men, since there was a law which forbade women to act. Women’s parts had, therefore, to be played by boys or adolescents whose voices bad not yet ‘broken’. Today, of course, it is funny to imagine Cleopatra, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, or Hermione being played by a boy It may be noted, however, that, in Shakespeare’s plays especially, an interesting device is used which minimises the difficulty caused by female parts being played by males. Repeatedly, in the comedies especially, girls are often required to disguise themselves as men––e.g. in As You Like It––so that if the actor playing the part, say, of Celia, looked to be more a young man than a young lady, then, instead of affecting credibility, it only added to the success of the part, for the ‘male disguise’ was to he regarded as so much the more successful. This not only made it easier for producers but confronted the audience with that interesting situation of a character pretending to be what he was in reality.
Costumes and Settings
For the most part, characters appeared in the fashionable dress of the day, and made little attempt to male their costume conform to the period being depicted in the play. However, they were often extremely lavish, and it might cost the actor playing the part of a king or prince quite a fortune to have his costume––which often belonged to him––prepared. Settings were sometimes indicated by placards, but generally there was little necessity of doing so, since the settings were usually vividly brought out in the speeches of the characters.
By modern standards, the Elizabethan stage may be said to have been almost bare. This was by no means a great handicap, for this bare Elizabethan stage was wonderfully well-suited to the plays of the period, in which beautiful poetry often made stage properties or scenery quite superfluous. The stage of the day provided the necessary degree of flexibility which the plays required. It is interesting to note that even with all the resources at their command, many modern directors choose to approximate more or less to the bareness of the Elizabethan stage, with more or less continuous scones because they find it better suited to the genius of Shakespearean plays. On the other hand, some of the impact of Shakespearean drama is always lost when the production is over-elaborate.
Shakespeare’s audience was a heterogeneous one, and one of Shakespeare’s eminent successes was in enthralling such a mixed audience, making it suspend its prejudices, preconceptions and ingrained attitudes in the presence of great art and beauty. This still remains a hall-mark of Shakespearean drama, for it can still be successfully performed before audiences comprising the most learned and the most ignorant, the most critical as well as the most naive, and never fails to delight any of them. In actual fact, Shakespeare’s audience was not drawn from the lowest dregs of society, as Robert Bridges maintains, but encompassed a wide spectrum of Elizabethan life, from the Queen herself at court, and the upper-class gentry at Blackfriars, to the many elements of the ordinary London population who came to the public playhouses. It is highly likely that Elizabethan audiences were much more demonstrative than those of our own day, weeping unashamedly at scenes of pathos, laughing unrestrainedly at comedy, and showing their displeasure with hisses and catcalls. In other respects, there is no reason to believe that they differed greatly from the audiences of present-day theatres and cinema-houses.