Theater And Drama

Theatre in Shakespeares Time



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Theatre in Shakespeare's time was very different to the theatre we know off today. Today, we sit in comfort at theatres, safe in the knowledge that the actors would have all learned their lines to the best of their ability. Back in the days of William Shakespeare though,things where very different  The plays were very last minute affairs and, in fact, some actors only received their lines just before they were due to appear before the baying and cheering audience. Indeed some of the actors even received their lines whilst they were actually on stage.

How did they know what to say, for they were not reading from a script?

In fact, they used a system called 'Cue Acting'. This would have meant somebody sitting behind the curtain whispering the lines to the actors. From this technique it led to another system called 'Cue Scripting'. This meant that the actors taking part in the play received only their lines and not the script for the whole play. Obviously this was because they were working under a time schedule. There was very little time for the actors to learn what they had to say, so 'Cue Scripting' was the 'norm'. It has to be said, that there were no female actors during the time of Shakespeare. Indeed, the roles of women had to be played by boys {who had not gone through puberty}. Obviously this was because they would have had higher voices - and would sound feminine.

The Globe Theatre {or to give it its full title: 'Shakespeare's Globe Theatre', which was designed in 1599}, was the theatre which Shakespeare wrote many of his famous plays for. This theatre {which is a reconstruction of the actual Globe from 1599, based in London} had a unique relationship with its audience. The building was actually owned by the actors themselves {who also happened to be shareholders of the theatre}.

The rich and the not so rich flocked to see the plays at the Globe, in fact, all manner of society would go. The young and the old, male and female would mingle together {not least because of the variety of the plays that were on offer}. There was something for everybody. Those watching the plays had a choice of seating available to them. If you paid to stand during the whole of the play you would be classed as a 'groundling'. Groundlings would stand around the stage, booing or cheering along with the rest of the audience. If one found themselves with a bit of money to spare, then they would maybe choose to watch the plays from the galleries. Indeed, an extra penny would get you a cushion, to sit on for your comfort.

There was also another option, some say it was the best, this option was to pay a little extra to actually sit on the stage as the actors performed. Nothing like being close up and personal to get a real feel for the play. During Shakespeare's day there would normally be two plays that took place at the Globe. They would be performed every afternoon without fail. The reason they were not done earlier during the day was because of the position of the sun. It would have been far too bright for the actors to have performed then. So, at 2pm on the dot, the first play would take place, followed immediately by the other one - as soon as the first was completed. With there being no artificial light during those times, plays were not done during the hours of darkness.

The main play was not the only play that was on at that time, in fact there was another type of play too. These were free shows and they took place on the green surrounding the Globe Theatre. These free plays were called, 'The Globe Theatre Green Shows'. The plays there, were usually short but they included dance, and songs. Actors who appeared in the 'Green Shows' then went on to the the main play at the Globe Theatre itself on that same day. One could make the assumption, {and one would be correct in that} that these 'Green Shows' were 'warm ups' for the main play that would be held inside the Globe Theatre.

Also, the 'Green Shows' would also include a very early type of advertisement for future shows coming up. These would include parodies - or previews - of well-loved and popular plays that the owners were hoping to produce at a later date. You could call it Elizabethan Advertising. When the main play was about to begin at the Globe Theatre, a trumpet would sound which would tell the thronging crowds to make their way there, and to take their seats.

Theatre during Shakespeare's day would have been bustling, noisy affairs. Indeed, crowds would flock from far and wide just to take in the atmosphere. You must not get the impression that they came just for the plays that took place {although the plays were the main attractions}. No, there were other attractions too such as open markets, which sold items of every description. London, during this period was a noisy, bustling busy city at the best of times, but on the days of the plays even more so. There would be beggars, thieves, bull baiting, money lenders, churchmen, inns that where full to the brim with customers, pigs, dogs, cats, horses and sheep, merchants, shoppers, and all manner of others besides.

Indeed, the residents who lived in those parts complained bitterly about the noise and crowds that would flock to their area. Crime seemed to rise, when the plays were performed, and there was also outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague {The Black Death}. When the outbreaks occurred, the theatres would be closed down.  With such crowds flocking to see the plays, the risk was always there.

The closure of the theatres occurred during the years: 1593,1603 and 1608. In London, during the year 1563, over twenty thousand people succumbed to the plague. There were many objections to the theatres which escalated to record levels. These objections were made by the Church, London Officials and respectable citizens, all arguing against the theatres, and the trouble and crowds they attracted.

1574 and the Common Council of London issues a statement thereby deriding the plays {the influence of puritanical factions here, cannot be underestimated}. By 1596, the complaints had reached such a crescendo that the authorities of London actually banned the public presentation of plays and every single theatre within the City of London. Those theatres that were located within the City, were forced to move, whether they liked it or not, to the South Side of the River Thames. The Globe Theatre, London, can be found now at the South Bank, London.

So to sum up, theatre during the times of Shakespeare was entertaining, but they were also noisy, crowded, bustling affairs. They where nothing like the theatres we know off today. Maybe Shakespeare wanted it that way? After all, he did write his plays so that the 'Common' Man or Woman could enjoy them too, and not just for the rich and famous.

 

More about this author: Wayne Leon Learmond