THE ELIZABETHAN THEATRE

The early part of the Elizabethan age was a period of strolling players. It was a time when the actors had to go to the audience instead of the audience coming to the actors. These strolling players performed in improvised theatres anywhere in tavern, yards, palaces or gentleman’s house.

DRAMATIC COMPANIES OF ELIZABETHAN PERIOD:

There were many such touring traumatic companies but the most important where the Admiral’s Men and Chamberlain’s Men. When both these companies where patronised by Queen Elizabeth. James I who succeeded Elizabeth took Chamberlin’ Men under his protection and thereafter the company was called the “King’s Men“. It was to this company that Shakespeare belonged for most of his career as a dramatist.

THE THEATRES OF THE TIME:

The first permanent theatre was built in 1576 by James Burbage, father of one of the colleagues of Shakespeare at Shoreditch, to the north of London. It was called the theatre as it was the only one of its kind in existence. Soon other theatres were also built thus the famous ‘Rose’ was built in 1587 the ‘Globe’ in 1599 and the ‘Fortune’ in 1600. Most of the theatres of the time was small as they were expected to accommodate only a limited number of spectators. They were different in shape, the Swan was after octagonal but the fortune was square. Part of the theatre that is the yard in the front of the stage was open to the sky where is the backstage as well as the galleries found in the yard was roofed.

THE STAGE ARRANGEMENT AND PRACTICES:

Throughout the Elizabethan period the theatre was half open to the sky and the place were acted during day time. But towards the end of Shakespeare’s career great changes for the better took place. In 1608 James Burbage bought the refectory of old Blackfriars Monastery and convert it into an indoor playhouse. Here plays where acted by candlelight and therefore most stage effects were possible.

The stage arrangement in the Elizabethan theatre was not so elaborate as in a modern one. Its main drawback was that there were no proper stage appliances to produce the effect of change in time and place. Placards were sometimes used to announce the location of the action. Shakespeare considered such devices as very and realistic and therefore tried to convey the effects of place time and action through the dialogues between characters. For instance, in Hamlet, Act I, scene 1, to let the audience know that the time of action is dawn for Horatio says to Marcellus and Bernardo.

“But look, the morn in russet mantle clad Walks o’er the dew of yon eastern hill”

There was no drop curtain in the Elizabethan theatre. The end of a scene was so often indicated by a rhyming couplet. In Hamlet, Act II,

“. . . I will have grounds

More relative than this, play is the king, Wherein I catch the conscience of the king”

NO FEMALE ACTORS:

A feature of great importance of Elizabethan stage was that there were no female performers. The acting profession was entirely masculine. It was only in the Restoration period that professional actresses became the accepted part of the English theatre. Women’s part was therefore played by young boys train from childhood for the purpose. The dramatic company for which Shakespeare wrote his plays, perhaps did not have many such ‘actresses’ and that is the reason why there are only a few women in most of his place. He had his own difference about the effect that was likely to be produced by these boy actresses and so he tried to overcome the difficulty by making his heroine is like Roselind, Viola and Beatrice appear under the disguise of boys. It was likely that this boy actors are not able act successfully like the part of somewhat grown up women of the type of Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra. Shakespeare himself is aware of this difficulty when he makes Cleopatra complain

“. . . and I shall see

Some squeaking Cleopatra boy may greatness”

AUDIENCE:

The audience of the Elizabethan age consisted of a small motley crowd drawn from all sections of society differing in tastes, education and wealth. Most of them were highly superstitious believing in ghost and witches and witchcraft and found of witnessing scenes of violence like brutal fights and bear biting. Those who could pay well was seated in the galleries from where they could have a better view of the performances. Some of the most privilege person sat on the stools on the stage and this enables them to pass remarks on the acting of the players. The rest of the audience known as groundlings, the most unruly and noisy section of the spectators, who pay just the penny stood on the floor around the uncovered part of the stage which jutted into the yard.

RELIGIOUS TO NON-RELIGIOUS DRAMA:

The Elizabethan age was a period of transition from the old religious trauma tomorrow and non religious plays. It is often said that the church was the cradle of English drama. In the beginning the dumb show were performed inside the church or the church premises by the clergyman. After the Renaissance there was a revival of learning and the demand was for the new type of classically influenced non-religious drama. At first this plays were written according to the classical tradition, observing the three unities of time, place and action. Later this rules were broken and the modern type of drama was evolved.

THE PLAYWRIGHTS OF THE PERIOD:

The first English dramatist of some originality was Robert Greene, who was one of “University wits“. The famous “Spanish tragedy” written by Thomas kyd is considered to be first tragedy in English. However, Christopher Marlowe, the author of Tamberline, The Jew of Malta, Dr. Faustus and Edward II is recognised by all as the father of english tragedy.

SHAKESPEARE’S CONTRIBUTION:

The presiding deity, however, of the Elizabethan stage, was William Shakespeare whose dramatic carrier extended to about 20 years from 1590 to 1610. Starting as an errand boy and actor of minor parts, be slowly rose to prominence and dominated the stage for years together without any break and without arrival anywhere in the vicinity. At the end of his career having earned a fortune sufficient to live comfortably for the rest of his life. ‘Shakespeare return to his native town, Stratford-on-Avon.’