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The Theatres

• Drama was a nation-wide activity in Shakespeare's time but only in London were there buildings designed specifically for performing plays. Most public theatres were tall, circular structures, open to the sky, with a cover over part of the stage and a roof running round the edge to protect the galleries.

• At first, no theatres for the performances of plays existed. • Actors performed their plays in the courtyards of inns or taverns. • The first theatre, called “The Theatre” was built in 1576 by James Burbage.

• Performances took place in the afternoons, with the actors playing on a raised stage which projected halfway into the theatre. The audience, which either stood in the yard around the stage or sat in the galleries, represented a wide social mix of people.

• Plays were big, there was money to be made and there was a constant demand for new material. Rivalry between the Theatres playhouses was enormous. As soon as a play had been written it was immediately produced - printing followed productions. Rival theater companies would send their members to attend plays to produce unauthorised copies of plays - notes were made and copied as quickly as possible.

• In Shakespeare’s time copyright did not exist and alternative versions of Shakespearean plays were produced! These unauthorised and inferior text copies of Shakespeare's plays are called Quarto Texts.

• The Globe was opened in 1599 and because Shakespeare was part-owner he performed many of his plays there. The success of the Elizabethan theaters, was such that other forms of Elizabethan entertainment were being seriously affected. In 1591 the growing popularity of theatres led to a law closing all theaters on Thursdays so that the bull and bear bating industries would not be neglected!

Special Effects • Thunder and lightning, witches and warlocks, ghosts and apparitions, bags of blood and guts - Elizabethan audiences loved them and Shakespeare gave them what they wanted.

• From Titus Andronicus to Macbeth, Shakespeare’s tragedies are awash with blood and littered with dead bodies. Actors used bladders of pigs blood which they burst when they had been stabbed. Animal entrails were used for disembowellings, and artificial severed heads were part of the props kept by the companies of players.

• People in Shakespeare’s time were used to such sights in real life. Public executions were always well attended and the heads of traitors were left to rot on stakes on London Bridge as a warning to others. • Hardly any props were used, everything was explained in the text.

The Globe theatre allowed stage productions to become quite sophisticated with the use of massive props such as fully working canons, although it would of course had to be left on stage for the entire performance of the play.

• Special effects at the Globe were also a spectacular addition at the theater allowing for smoke effects, the firing of a real canon, fireworks (for dramatic battle scenes) and spectacular 'flying' entrances from the rigging in the 'heavens'. The stage floor had trapdoors allowing for additional surprising incidents. Music was another addition to the Globe productions.

• Plays were performed in the afternoon and in Summer. They could be cancelled due to bad weather and a flag was raised to signal that a play was to be performed. Trumpets would sound the beginning of the play. • The musicians would be seated in the balcony, and it was used for scenes such as Juliet’s speech to Romeo. • The Globe Theater had a 1500 plus audience capacity. It often held around 3000 people.

The Actors • The Globe Theater audience never had time to get bored. In just two weeks Elizabethan theaters could often present “eleven performances of ten different plays”. The Shakespearean Actors generally only got their lines as the play was in progress. Parts were often allocated on the day of the performance. There were no actresses. Female characters had to be played by young boys. The acting profession was not a credible one and it was unthinkable that any woman would appear in a play.

The Audience • The Elizabethan general public (the Commoners) referred to as groundlings would pay 1 penny to stand in the 'Pit' of the Globe Theater. The gentry would pay to sit in the galleries often using cushions for comfort! Rich nobles could watch the play from a chair set on the side of the Globe stage itself. Men and women attended plays, but often the prosperous women would wear a mask to disguise their identity.

The stage was called an apron stage and reached into the audience so that the people could watch the plays from three sides. Because of this shape it was important for the actors to address the spectators in all parts of the theatre. The spectators were allowed to eat and drink during the performance. And sometimes they even shouted and interrupted the actors on stage.

• The audiences only dropped during outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which was an all too common occurrence during the Elizabethan era. This happened in 1593, 1603 and 1608 when all theaters were closed due to the Plague.

Shakespeare the Actor • William Shakespeare had a stake holding in the Globe Theatre and also acted in some of the productions of the plays.

Plays and Propaganda • As there were no initial regulations it was possible to use plays as a vehicle for propaganda. Plays could be used to encourage criticism of the state and freedom of thought in both religion and politics. Queen Elizabeth controlled the troupes of players by granting a to organised acting companies. Under Queen Elizabeth political and religious subjects were forbidden on the stage.

• Plays still however often led to heated debates in the theaters and arguments erupted. The subject matter of the plays would often be vulgar and bawdy. The behaviour of some the audience was the worse! The theatres didn’t just show plays. Some also served as a bear pit, brothel and gambling house. Crime increased at the theaters and following the performances the crowds were noisy and unruly. The vast crowds and the popularity of the London Theaters needed some additional controls.

The Theaters are Banned • The objections to the theaters escalated and the Church, London Officials and respectable citizens raised even more objections to the theatres. • The outcry continued and grew so much that in 1596 London's authorities banned the public presentation of plays and all theaters within the city limits of London. All theaters located in the City were forced to move to the South side of the River Thames.

The Globe Theater - the Fire The Globe was only in use until 1613, when on June 29 a fire broke out at the Globe Theatre . The canon used for special effects, such as heralding great entrances, was loaded with gunpowder and wadding. The thatched roof caught on fire and the Globe Theatre burned to the ground. It is not known whether there were any casualties. In 1614 the Globe was rebuilt.

The End of the Globe Theater • In 1642, under the force of the Puritans, the English Parliament issued an order suppressing all stage plays in theatres. In 1644 the Globe Theatre was demolished by the Puritans. In 1647 even stricter rules were passed regarding stage plays and theatres. This culminated in 1648 when all playhouses were ordered to be pulled down. All players were to be seized and whipped, and anyone caught attending a play to be fined five shillings. With the demise in power of the Puritans in 1660 the theatres finally opened again.

• The site of the old Globe theatre was rediscovered in the 20th century and a reconstruction of a New Globe Theatre has been built near the spot.

• Click to edit Master text styles – Second level – Third level • Fourth level – Fifth level

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• Click to edit Master text styles – Second level – Third level • Fourth level – Fifth level

• Click to edit Master text styles – Second level – Third level • Fourth level – Fifth level

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• Click to edit Master text styles – Second level – Third level • Fourth level – Fifth level


History of the Globe