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Elizabethan-Era Shakespeare

Someone who lived during Shakespeare’s time could get into the theater to see a play for as little as one penny. What does this say to you about who might have been able to see one of his plays, and about how his plays may have been regarded back then? For a penny, almost anybody who wanted to would have been able to find a spot to stand in the Yard, and thus the Globe would have been a theater that was open to many different walks of life. The poor would have stood in the Yard, craning their necks up to see the action on the stage, and the rich would have sat up top in galleries, looking down on the stage, and perhaps looking down upon the masses, as Lords were wont to do back then. Shakespeare’s plays would have had to appeal to both audiences, and his mix of lowbrow comedy and highbrow tragedy did exactly that.

The theater was open air and could hold about 3,000 people, most of whom would have been those who would have had to stand down below. Theater goers could pay extra to stand under the balconies to get out of the rain, to get chairs and cushions, or to get better seats that were higher up. However, the theater in Shakespeare’s time lacked many things that we have come to expect when we go and see a play nowadays. There were no sets, at most there may have been a chair or bed onstage for a scene every now and then, nor was there a large curtain in front to reveal and hide the stage at the beginnings and ends of shows. That being said, the theater was not without its tricks. A trapdoor on the stage could be used by actors when they needed to be buried or to play the part of ghosts. There were also small curtains on stage that could be thrown back to dramatically reveal a character.

One aspect of plays back then that would be quite strange to us nowadays was that there were not any female actors, only male actors. The parts of all the girls and women, be they major or minor, were played by boys and young men. In order to get the parts across, they would have had to dress up in women’s costumes. Speaking of, costumes were extremely important, and on a stage without sets, the only things that could convey a story, besides what the actors said and did, were the costumes they wore. So, the theater back then would have had to rely heavily on the audience’s imagination to put on a good show. As torches and candles would not provide enough light for shows at night, all plays took place during the day, so the audience would have had to exercise their imagination especially hard were they to watch a play with dark and stormy nights on a sunny day.


Globe Theatre: Performance during Shakespeare’s time -







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