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Modern Reconstruction of the Globe Observations (Open-air theatre)
• Raised stage/ yard where groundlings stood; seats in galleries around more expensive, perhaps also some
on stage; rooms at rear for actors' entrances and exits, for machinery, musicians. Typical public theatre
1590s to 1640 (known as Elizabethan, Jacobean, Caroline). No roof, no artificial lighting; but props,
elaborate costumes. Could take 3000 people, probably ranging across courtiers, wits, gentry, pickpockets,
merchants, artisans, prostitutes, soldiers. Outside City walls to escape jurisdiction of hostile authorities,
so on south bank of Thames. Often closed in times of plague, political crisis, most notably in 1642.
Reconstruction indoor theatre (Blackfriars)
Observations on indoor theatres
• Blackfriars Theatre, north of river, under jurisdiction of city fathers, with some court protection.
Bought by Shakespeare's company 1608. Indoors, artificial lighting, 500-600 capacity. Tickets from one
shilling. Elaborate machinery, including flying gear. Stage still part of auditorium, but audience mostly have
straight-on view, rather than sitting in the round. Different dynamic actors/audience; Sh's last plays,
much use of spectacle and masque-like elements. From 1608, Shakespeare therefore writing for 2 very
different playing spaces, and some plays (probably e.g. Macbeth, The Tempest) adapted to be performed
in both. Versatility of both writer and actors.
Acting companies
• The acting company of Elizabethan/Jacobean period. Shakespeare’s company known as Lord
Chamberlain’s Men or, after 1603, King's Men. Protection. Men: no women on public stage until 1660, their
parts being played by 'boys’. A joint stock company: core of shareholders with stake in theatre(s) they
owned, plays they owned, props, costumes, their own acting skills. Shakespeare a writer, actor, and also
a capitalist, part-owner of the company. No director: instead, a team, perhaps with internal tensions and
rows, some more powerful than others. But the shareholders did own their resources: they had between
them quite a lot of control. This produces very rich and varied drama, lots of experimentation.
Prologue to Henry V (1)
• Chorus O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage,
princes to act, And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, leas’d in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire Crouch for
employment. But pardon, gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that hath dar’d on this unworthy scaffold to
bring forth So great an object. Can this cockpit hold the vasty field of France? Or may we cram Within
this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt?
Prologue to Henry V (2)
• O, pardon! Since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great
accompt, On our imaginary forces work. Suppose within the girdle of these walls Are now confin’d two
mighty monarchies, Whose high upreared and abutting fronts The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts: Into a thousand parts divide one man, And make imaginary
puissance; Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them Printing their prouds hoofs i’ th’ receiving
earth; The power of the audience
• For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
Turning th’ accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass; for the which supply, Admit me Chorus to
this history; Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
(Richard II, V.ii.23-36)
• York As in a theatre the eyes of men After a well-grac’d actor leaves the stage Are idly bent on him
that enters next, thinking his prattle to be tedious; Even so, or with much more contempt, men’s eyes
Did scowl on gentle Richard; no man cried ‘God save him!’ No joyful tongue gave him his welcome home;
But dust was thrown upon his sacread head; Which with such gentle sorrow he shook off, His face still
combating with tears ans smiles, the badges of his grief and patience, that had not God, for some strong
purpose, steel’d The hearts of men, they must perforce have melted, And barbarism itself have pitied him.
The theatrical metaphor
• If a man shoulde saye well, he could not better tearme the Citie of London that time, than a stage
wherein was shewed the wonderful spectacle of a noble hearted Princesse toward her most loving People
and the People’s exceeding comfort in beholding so worthy a soverign, and hearing so Prince like a voice,
which could not but have set the enemie on fyre, since the verture is in the enemie always commended,
much more could not but enflame her naturall, obedient, and most loving people, whose weale leaneth onely
uppon her Grace and her Government. (The Quenes Maiesties Passage through the Citie of London)
Kings, Queens and Theatre Elizabeth I (1586): “We princes are set upon stages in the sight and view of all
the world.” James I: “A King is as one set on a skaffold, whose smallest actions and gestures al[l] the
people gazingly doe behold.” (The Basilicon Doron of James VI, ed. James Craigie [Edinburg and London:
Blackwood and Sons, 1944], p. 162.
Against theatre
• I am persuaded that Satan hath not a more speedie way and fitter schoole to work and teach his desire,
to bring men and women into his snare of concupiscence and filthie lustes of wicked whoredome, than
those places and playes, and theaters are; And therefore necessarie that those places and Players should
be forbidden and dissolved and put down by authoritie, as the Brothell houses and Stewes are (John
Northbrooke, Treatise wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine Playes or Enterludes … are reproved, 1577)
Against theatre (2)
• The refuse sort of evill disposed & ungodly people about this Cytie have opportunitiy hearby to
assemble together & to make their matches for all their lewd & ungodly practices; [playhouses]
being also the ordinary places for all maisterless men & vagabond persons that haunt the high
waies, to meet together & to recreate themselves (“The Remembrancia,” in Dramatic Records of
the City of London, ed. E.K.Chambers [London: The Malone Society, 1907], 1:1, p.68)
Theatre and gender roles
• “What safegarde of chastitie can there be, where woman is desired with so many eyes, where so
many faces look upon hir, and again she uppon so manye/ She must needes fire some, and hirself also
fired againe, and she be not a Stone (JohnNorthbrooke)
• “Our apparell was given us as a signe distinctive to discern between sex and sex, and therefore one to
weare the Apparel of another sex, is to participate with the same, and to adulterate the veritie of his
own Kinde” (Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, 1583)