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Renaissance drama
Elizabethan theatre
Great artistic quality
Mythology shared
by the whole nation
Very popular among
all social classes
(nobles, craftsman,
peasants, burghers
and even monarchs
Celebration of
England and English
kings and queens
Structure of the Elizabethan theatre
• one of the most common
• Plays were initially performed in London inn courtyards
• 1574: public performances were banned in London
• a few years later a number of public playhouses were
built outside the jurisdiction of London, at first north of
the City, : The theatre (1576), the Curtain (1577); then
others (the Rose (1587), the Swan (1595), and the Globe
(1599) were built south of the Thames.
form of mass
people of all classes went
to the theatre
beautiful costumes and
(sometimes) funny
most people stood in front
of the stage (was
audience often took part
in the performance:
screamed, booed,
cheered, ate, drank and
even quarelled
stage: right in the middle
of the audience
actors were only males,
female parts were played
by adolescent boys in
women's costume
performances took place
in the daylight, mainly in
the afternoon
Prices – fares
• Arena (open yard surrounding the stage) –
one penny
• Galleries – 2 pennies (standing room)
• Galleries – 3 pennies ( seats)
• One of the galleries was divided into small
compartments that could be used by the
wealthy and aristocrats.
• A few seats on the stage
Companies’ fortune
• By law, actors were “vagabonds” and not allowed to perform
in public;
• looked for patrons’ protection, generally noblemen or even
the monarch
• wore their patron’s livery
• chose their patron’s name:
– the Earl of Leicester’s Men
– The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
– The King’s Men
• In winter, performances took place at noblemen’s palaces or
at Court
The Jacobean theatre
Early XVII century
• Separation of the theatre audience: the lower
and the higher classes no longer attend the
same theatre:
– Public outdoor theatres attended by ordinary
– Private indoor theatres attended by the nobility
• Plays written for the nobility were performed
indoor: at court or at noblemen’s palaces.
Study Questions
What was the most relevant cultural phenomenon throughout the English
Renaissance? What were its features?
The Elizabethan theatre can be considered the most significant cultural phenomenon
of English Renaissance for its high artistic quality. It celebrated England and the
country’s kings and queens, providing a whole mythology to the nation. It was a
popular form of entertainment seen by the monarch, nobles, burghers, craftsmen,
labourers and peasants.
Mention the names of some playhouses and describe their structure and features.
The plays, first performed in the courtyards of London inns, were later banned from
the City being considered either a disturbance or highly immoral. From 1574 new
public outdoor playhouses were built north of the city – like “The theatre” or the
“Curtain” – but mainly south of the Thames such as the “Rose”, the “Swan”, the
“Globe”. The latter was Shakespeare’s company playhouse. The audience was mixed,
the prices varied, but entrance could cost as little as 1 penny to stand in the arena (as
a “groundling”). Spectators could sit in the galleries or take the few seats on the stage
for more money. Plays were performed in the afternoons, actors were in close
contact with the public, who could move around, talk, quarrel, eat and drink. Due to
this mixture of elements, the atmosphere of Elizabethan public theatres was unique.
Study Questions
What is it relevant to remember about the actors?
According to the law actors were classified as “vagabonds” and weren’t allowed
to perform in public, so they put themselves under the protection of some
nobleman or even the queen or the king and to thank them for their generosity
and the protection granted they wore their patrons’ liveries and their companies
took their names. For instance, Shakespeare’s companies were The Earl of
Leicester’s Men, The Lord Strange’s Men, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, The King’s
Men. Actors could also perform privately at Court or for noble households in
winter. Finally, all female roles were acted by young boys disguised, a tradition
that lasted until the 19th century.
Which changes occurred to the Jacobean theatre which are revealing of
contemporary society?
While at first theatres had been attended by all social classes, after Elizabeth I ‘s
death there was a sharp division between public outdoor theatres only attended
by common people and private indoor theatres attended by the nobility. The
lower and the higher classes were no longer part of the same audience. Such a
division reflects the division that took place in English society in the early 17th