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Elizabethan theatre. History. Few professional theatres at the beginning of the Elizabethan period. Period began with Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1558 and lasted until theatres were closed in 1642. Performances - outdoors or in town halls, banquet halls or inns.
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History • Few professional theatres at the beginning of the Elizabethan period. • Period began with Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1558 and lasted until theatres were closed in 1642. • Performances - outdoors or in town halls, banquet halls or inns. • Stages and scenery (if any was used) were temporary. • Wealthy gentlemen and ladies funded and licensed troupes and occasionally provided costumes from their own closets. • Each company catered first to their sponsor and would get permission to travel or perform in another company’s area. • Until theatres were built at the turn of the seventeenth century (1600), the performance of plays was for a wealthy household and their guests.
Royal regulations • Because acting troupes were privately funded and permitted to travel, there was very little control over the material they presented. • Queen Elizabeth grew her power was to bring the theatre under stricter government regulations. • Between 1559 and 1572, she outlawed religious or political plays, put licensing of performances under local control, requiring officials to censor anything illegal, and made the rank of baron the lowest able to sponsor a troupe. • The ranks from baron and higher were: baron, viscount, earl, marquis, and duke – women were also permitted to sponsor a troupe but again they had to be the rank of baroness or higher.
The first troupes • In 1574, the first royal patent for an acting troupe was given to James Burbage (1530-1597) and Leicester’s Men. • A patent meant they didn’t have to receive a local license to perform, but received authority from the Master of Revels of the Queen’s court. • London theatre was expanding with the population. An uprising of critics wanted to do away with performances altogether because of their immoral nature. • To appease this, in 1581 the Master of Revels was granted the sole authority to license any performances and, by 1598, any playhouses as well. • The Queen’s Men were established as the only professional company allowed at many locations in London in the attempt to curtail the number of actors and performances in the city. • To keep the quality of players and performances, however, in 1594 the Lord Chamberlain and Lord Admiral each established their own troupes to play in the London suburbs.
The first troupes • All three of these troupes consisted of actors recruited from other companies, making them the highest quality groups possible. • Edward Alleynwas the lead actor of the Admiral’s Men, and the Burbage family and William Shakespeare were the best-known actors from the Chamberlain’s Men. • Each company was granted its own playhouse, marking the first time that an acting troupe had complete control and responsibility over where they performed.
Troupe members • Each performer could be a shareholder, meaning they owned part of the financial responsibility and reward, or a hired man, meaning someone contracted to perform with the company as either a supporting role or as a stage hand to help with costumes and line prompts. • Hired roles also included young boys who were apprenticed to play the girls and young women, because female performers were not yet allowed. • These boys could be between ten and twenty years old. • Most companies had behavior guidelines that were punishable by fines, such as being late to rehearsals or performances and wearing the costume outside the theatre.
Play preparation • Acting troupes had to develop an extensive repertory(a number of plays that they could perform in rotation) in order to keep an audience. • They had to purchase plays and pay for their licensing. It was about three weeks between the purchase of a play and its first performance. • The Master of Revels approved the play or took out any objectionable passages, giving the company very little time to rehearse – sideswere written (sheets that only had the actor’s lines and the three word cues for each). • In order to know when to be on stage, there was also a list of scenes with the actors in each and a list of necessary props and costumes. • The bookholder was responsible for writing all of this and for prompting the actors, or reminding them of their lines, during the performances. **All of this was written by hand!**
Playwright influences • Two main influences on playwriting: Seneca’s plays from Ancient Rome and contemporary Italian plays. • Seneca’s plays gave structure, especially the use of five acts and the demise of characters to emphasize the moral lesson. • Political and economic issues drastically changed the theatre during Queen Elizabeth’s rule. • Originally plays were still based on Greek myths and plays or on stock characters, but after Elizabeth’s victory over the Spanish Armada, many writers felt compelled to use England’s history as subject matter. • The language expanded from traditional rhymed verse to both blank verse and prose, which became a standard in comedies for less educated characters.
intermission Shakespeare in love part i
Major elizabethan playwrights • The first major writers of the Elizabethan theatre were graduates of Oxford and Cambridge and called “University Wits.” Two of these are Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe. • Kyd (1558-1594) wrote the first popular revenge tragedy called The Spanish Tragedy, which was similar to an epic play because it spanned a wide range of time and space, showed all of the action on stage, and dealt with a great number of characters. • Marlowe (1564-1593) was perhaps the greatest writer in the group, his early demise prevented him from rivaling Shakespeare in bulk of work, but at the time he died his work was of higher quality. He is best known for Doctor Faustus (1588), which is his vivid poetic telling of the Faustian legend in which the doctor sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, youth, and love, but all his work focused on a single protagonist who we learned about through an episodic view of his or her life.
Ben johnson • Ben Jonson (1572-1637) was another noted playwright of this period. His focus was mostly on the artistry of writing, meaning the following of specific rules in constructing plot and characters. He is best known for his comedies, especially Volpone(1606), which is exemplary of his “corrective” style in which a character’s flaws are shown and condemned. He also used the concept of “humours,” or bodily fluids that supposedly determined one’s health, as a way to show when and how characters were out of balance.
William shakespeare (1564-1616) • The greatest playwright of the Elizabethan period, due to the bulk, performance quality and variety of his work • Began as an actor around 1585 and most likely worked with three different companies before becoming a shareholder in the Chamberlain’s Men in 1594. • His writing began around 1589 and when he joined Chamberlain’s Men, writing two plays each season until 1603 when he began to write in partnership with others in his company. • His plays include histories, comedies, and tragedies and all follow the five-act standard. In addition to plays he wrote over 150 sonnets and other short works.
Shakespearean exceptionality • Shakespeare’s ability to craft well- rounded characters and his diversity of language set his plays apart. • Even within large casts, Shakespeare gave enough depth to each character that they can stand on their own and be psychologically and emotionally valid unto this day. • Also, Shakespeare used more words than any other writer before or since. • The construction of multiple plots that build on their own and then come together to resolve is another reason that his characters have so much depth. • There is the indication that life continues off-stage and we are only seeing facets, causing the audience to use more of their imagination. Yet when characters are on stage they say exactly what they mean so there is very little hidden beyond a significant amount of wit and play-on-words used.
Famous elizabethan actors • There were many famous actors who are credited with establishing specific characters because they were written for and performed first by them. • Edward Alleyn(1566-1626), of the Admiral’s Men, who was the first great tragic actor known for Marlowe’s Faustus. • Richard Burbage (1567-1619), of the Chaimberlain’s Men, established many of Shakespeare’s leading men such as Hamlet, Richard III, Lear, and Othello, and was said to be the greatest Elizabethan actor. • William Kempe(unknown-1603) was known for his comedy. • John Lowin(1576-1659) was known for his playing of Falstaff.
Famous playhouses • James Burbage is credited as one of the earliest builders of playhouses in London. With his influence as a shareholder of Chamberlain’s Men he was able to establish some traditions of the stage that we recognize today. • The Red Lion was the first playhouse established in London in1567, there are only brief accounts of scaffolded seating, a five foot high stage that was 40 feet wide and 30 feet deep with a 30 foot turret. Accounts of the building were never made or are lost.
Famous Playhouses • The Theater – second playhouse built in 1576 – lasted until 1598 – dismantled to build The Rose • The Theater construction became standard for open-air theaters • Large polygonal building • 3 levels of roofed audience galleries • Courtyard in center open to the sky • Stage raised and jutted from one wall into the courtyard • Audience in the courtyard stood on 3 open sides while the gallery audience could have completely surrounded the stage
The Rose (1587-1606) • Playhouse built for the Admiral’s Men • Excavated in 1988 to provide reliable info on theaters of Elizabethan era • 14-sided polygon • Overall diameter: 72 feet • Seating galleries: 11 ½ feet deep, making inner courtyard 49 feet in diameter • Courtyard sloped toward stage and paved with cinders and nutshells • Trapezoid stage: 36’ 9” @ wall, 26’ 10” at front – thrust into yard about 16 ½ feet
The Globe • Most famous playhouse from time • Where Shakespeare’s work was mostly performed • Original Globe burned down in 1613 • Second Globe lasted until 1644 when all public theaters were closed • Built to look like a circle • Also called “The Wooden ‘O’” • Shakespeare’s Globe opened in London in 1997 as a working Elizabethan playhouse
Audiences • Daily performances in London, but only 10-20% of the population could afford to attend plays on a regular basis • Yard (standing) – one penny charge • Seating galleries – two pennies • Cushioned box seat – three pennies • The Lord’s Rooms (above stage) – six pennies (status) • Women gained a bad reputation for standing in the yard, so they were generally only seen in the galleries
Theater traditions • Theaters closed during Lent, and any time the weekly death toll was above 50 so there was less chance of spreading the Plague. • Plays advertised by flags flown above playhouse, posters displayed and handbills passed out around the city