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HL 3030 Major Author: Shakespeare
Week 3
Shakespeare’s Stage
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Before Theatres…

Traveling players.

Typically entertained private households of the wealthy and performed at
Court.

Universities had their own performances.

Simply performed at whatever space they were given and whatever props or
tools they carried with them. However, when playing at Court, they were
provided with costumes, and equipment necessary to set up some kind of
stage, and seats.

Livelihood depended on commissions to perform; unstable income.

Usually had a set of repertory (plays that were normally performed).
[Hamlet’s players: The Mousetrap]
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Before Commercial Plays…

Corpus Christi, Passion, Mystery plays of the Medieval and late
Medieval period.

Played during religious holidays and festivals.

Large participation; seen as a community event. Everyone was involved
in planning the plays.

REED (Record of Early English Drama). Database with records of
early performances (including non-dramatic performances) before
Shakespeare’s time (http://reed.utoronto.ca)
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Theatres in Shakespeare’s London

2 types of theatres:
1) Amphitheatre

The first amphitheatre (The Red Lion) built in 1567.

Varied versions of animal-baiting houses and inn-yards.

The first generation of amphitheatres provided no protection from the
weather; the later ones (after 1590) seems to have some degree of
shelter.
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Amphitheatres

There are no images of the Theatre, but written accounts of the
building describe a vast, polygonal, three-story timber structure, open to
the sun and rain.

Its exterior was coated with lime and plaster. It had features similar to
those of the future Globe playhouse and other playhouses of the day,
such as galleries, upper rooms, a tiring house, and trap doors in the stage
floor.

Like the Globe, the Theatre had two external staircases, standing on
either side of the building, and leading up to the galleries. Those people
who watched from the main "yard" surrounded by the comfortable
covered galleries, were forced to stand during the entire performance
[Source: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/theatre/burbagetheatre.html]
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1596 drawing of the interior of
The Swan, by Johannes De Witt.
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The Globe (1599)
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The Globe (today)
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Audiences at the Globe (1599)

Pit (or yard): no seating and the cheapest spot to watch a play (1 penny);
typically lower classes. “Groundlings”, “Afternoon’s Men.”

Associated with unsavoury characters: catpurses, prostitutes, swindlers
(though these people could find suitable target in taverns as well),
swashbuckling

Marston describes the Halls to be a better place for playgoing:
I like the Audience that frequenteth there
With much applause: A man shall not be choakte
With the stench of Garlicke, nor be pasted
To the barmy Jacket of a Beer-brewer (Gurr 216)
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Audiences at the Globe (1599)

Galleries: Tiered area with wooden seat surround the Globe.

Lord’s rooms: most expensive area of (cushioned) seating.

Gentlemen’s rooms: Flanks the left and right of the Lord’s rooms.

In 1613, the Globe burned down due to a fire sparked by a performance
of Henry VIII.
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Actors

Boy companies and boy players.

Boys played women’s roles until the theatres re-opened in 1660. (Closed
in 1642 because of Puritans).

Thick white mixture was used to paint faces (Ceruse-mixture of vinegar
and white lead).
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Private Halls
2) Halls

Opened in 1575

Large indoor rooms

Modeled after banqueting halls in courts and great manors.

Unlike the public theatres, private theatres such as the Blackfriars had roofs and
specifically catered to the wealthy and highly educated classes of London
society.
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Private Halls

The private theatres in London were built upon grounds that belonged
to the church -- grounds that had been appropriated by Henry VIII and
were therefore not under the control of the Lord Mayor.

The Blackfriars soon became the premier playhouse in all of London.
The price for admission was up to five times that of the Globe, and it
seated about seven hundred people in a paved auditorium.

Equipped with artificial lighting and other amenities that the other
playhouses did not possess, but overall it quite closely resembled the
public theatres with its trap doors, superstructure of huts (with wires
and belts to hang props and lower actors), inner stage, and tiring house.
[Source: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/theatre/blackfriars.html]
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Private Halls

Private Halls as social spaces (not unlike the amphitheatres)

As important to see as to be seen.
The First Blackfriars
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Private Halls

Bad behavior was not exclusive only to amphitheatres.

Gallants bringing their three-legged stools to the stage; blocking views.
(Note different seating arrangements in amphitheatres.)

Students from the Inns of Court (while on vacation)

Nut-cracking; Jasper Mayne notes in his prologue that he is not afraid
of “them who sixpence pay and sixpence crack” (Gurr 226).

Interruptions, demanding that the play be performed in their way
(Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle)
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The rising status of the players

From 1572, the government passed a statute that renders all players
without patrons were to be labeled vagabonds.

Vagabonds were arrested and sometimes whipped.

Liveried servants, and with royal support.

Patronage provided protection from the City Fathers and puritans and
also gave the players more opportunity to perform in Court and in
noble houses.

Demonstration of wealth and social status (for the patron)

Shakespeare’s successful purchase of a coat of arms for his father in
1596.
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“Non sanz droict” (“Not without right”)
• Coat of Arms had to be applied from the
College of Arms.
• Must demonstrate that ancestors had
done something or performed a service
that deserved the honour
• Expensive (cost up to£30)
• A schoolmaster’s average salary £20/year
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