Elizabethan Theater Term Paper

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Elizabethan Theater

Elizabethan theatre is a general concept embodying the plays written and performed openly in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603. The term can be applied more generally to also incorporate theatre of Elizabeth's immediate successors, James I and Charles I, till the end of public theatres in 1642 on the inception of Civil War. (Elizabethan theatre: Wikipedia) During the end of 16th century and inception of 17th century William Shakespeare dominated the theatrical environment, and at that time witnessing a play during afternoon was considered a great entertainment for many members of London society and acclaimed similar popular form of entertainment as that of going to movies and plays presently. A thorough look at the theatre of Shakespeare's time however, will entail many distinctions between the Elizabethan theatre and the movies and plays of today. (Welcome to the world of the Elizabethan theatre!)

During the later part of 15th century, plays were being staged in two kinds of theatre buildings: the private theatre and the public theatre. During 1576, the first public theatre in London was constructed and during the period Shakespeare was bringing out his plays and highest number of play houses in London were emerged in comparison to other European cities. To illustrate Rose was constructed during 1587, the Swan in 1595, the Globe in 1599 and the Fortune in 1600. Shakespeare and his patronizing company, Lord Chamberlain's Men, played in the Globe theatre. (Welcome to the world of the Elizabethan theatre!)

Elizabethan theatres originated from several bases. A primary source was the obscurity of the plays that were integral part of religious ceremonies in England and other parts of Europe during the middle Ages. The mystery plays were complicated retellings of legends depending upon biblical themes, actually performed in churches but later becoming more prone to the secular celebrations that grew up around religious festivals. Other sources incorporate the morality plays that grown the 'University drama' that attempted to recreate Greek tragedy. Subsequently the Commedia dell'arte and the detailed masques regularly presented at court came to play roles in the designing of public theatre. Temporary companies of players associated with households of leading noblemen and performing seasonally in various locations prevailing prior to Elizabeth's reign. These became the groundwork for the professional players that performed on the Elizabethan stage. (Elizabethan theatre: Wikipedia)

The tours of these players steadily substituted the performances or the mystery and morality plays by local players and a 1572 law avoided the remaining companies, deficient of formal patronage by discarding them as vagabonds. At court also the performance of masques by courtiers and other amateurs, are really common in the early years of Elizabeth, was replaced by the professional companies with noble patrons who rose in number and quality during her reign. The local government of London was normally aggressive to public performances, but its aggressiveness was superseded by the interest of the Queen for plays and support of the Privy Council. Theatres strangled up in suburbs, particularly in Southwark, reachable across the Thames to city dwellers, but nor regulated by the London corporation. The companies maintained the pretence that their public performances were only rehearsals for the regular performances prior to the Queen, but while the latter did provide prestige, the former were the correct source of the income professional players necessitated. (Elizabethan theatre: Wikipedia)

Up to the Middle of the Elizabethan era no particular theatre buildings, but the players in London or elsewhere, performed wherever they could find an available place in open squares, large halls, or particularly, in the quadrangular open inner yards of inns. While the profession became better organized and as the plays enhanced in quality, such rough and ready arrangements became more and more unsatisfactory, but there were particular problems in the way of protecting better ones in London. For the population and magistrates of London were prevailing Puritan, and the enlarged body of the Puritans, then as always, were strongly antagonistic to the theater as a frivolous and irreligious thing- an attitude for which the lives of the players and the character of many plays afforded, then as almost always, only too much reason. (An Elizabethan Stage from Chapter VI. The Drama from about 1550 to 1642)

The city was very nervous of its prerogatives; so that irrespective of the strong patronage of the drama, throughout her whole reign no public theater buildings were permitted within the proximity of City Corporation. However, such confinements were narrow and in 1576 James Burbage initiated a new age of erecting 'The Theater' just to the north of the 'city', only a few minutes' walk from the center of population. His illustration was soon pursued by other managers, though the favorite place for the theaters soon came to be the 'Bankside', the region in Southwark just across the Thames from the city where Tabard Inn of Cahucer had erected and where pits for bear-baiting and cock-fighting had emerged for a long period of time. (An Elizabethan Stage from Chapter VI. The Drama from about 1550 to 1642)

The structure of the Elizabethan theatre was really confined from its prime predecessor, the inn yard. Under the open sky theatre in the opposite side to the street entry the players were habitually fixing their stage. On three sides, the ordinary part of the audience was witnessing the play standing, the invitees and persons capable of paying a fixed price were sitting in the open galleries set up all around the world. In the theatres, initially square-built or octagonal, the stage projected from the rear wall quite towards the centre of the open sky pit to which also the common people were allowed for a nominal fees of sixpence or less, stood and jostled each other, either went home when it rained or stayed and became wet as the magnitude of their interest in the play might indicate. The public theatre was normally a round square, or octagonal wooden structure that is described by Shakespeare himself as 'wooden O'. The building was capable of accommodating roughly 3000 people. Since this open air structure relied upon natural lighting, all plays start at 3 pm during summer and at 2 pm in the summer. When a play was to be performed as a symbol a flag was raised on the top of the playhouse for the Londoners of the event. Additionally, a trumpeter would also announce the approaching play in song. (Welcome to the world of the Elizabethan theatre!)

During the Elizabethan era in England, theaters where built of wood. They comprised of several floors of covered galleries around a courtyard that was open to the elements. A major section of the audience would situate in the yard, directly in front of the stage. This layout is supposed to have originated from the experience of holding plays in the yard of an inn. The only theatre whose scopes are known is the Fortune Theatre that had a square floor design. But the Globe Theatre in London, where many of the plays of William Shakespeare were first performed was supposed to be round. The fact of its confirmation for the round shape is a line in Shakespeare's Henry V that calls the building 'this wooden O' and a rough woodcut example of the city of London. (Theater (structure))

The Theatre was considered to be the first permanent edifice constructed in England for plays built outside the city confinements of London in 1576 by James Burbage. It quickly had several competitors, but little is recognized about any of these play houses. The contract for The Fortune built in 1600 still survives, and it reminds of the square shape of three-storied building, 80 feet on the outside, 55 feet on the inside. The stage was considered to be 43 feet wide and 271/2 feet deep. It has been estimated that about 800 people could stand around the three sides of the stage on the field that was known as the yard and the other 1500 could be seated in the three galleries. The other primary piece of evidence pertaining to the physical nature of the theater are the 'De Witt drawing' that is normally a copy of sketch made by an audience to The Swan, and pieces of evidence that can be gleaned from the plays themselves, such as 'Enter a Fairy at one door and Robin Goodfellow at another.' The end differs and scholarly tempers run high; the following statements are not free from ambiguity. (Chorus: The UVic Writer's Guide)

One of the most outstanding stages of Elizabethan time was the Globe Theater, a 17th century English theater in Southwark, London, remarkable for the early and present productions of the plays of Shakespeare and of the dramatic works of Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Flether and others. The Globe was created in 1599 by the famous English actor Richard Burgage, in partnership with Shakespeare and others. The octagonally-shaped outerwall of the theater encompassed a roofless inner pit into which the…[continue]

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