Elizabethan Theathre Essay, Research Paper
Elizabethan Theatre & Drama
Drama and theatrical presentation in Elizabethan England is not acknowledged and remembered today because of individual plays, but for the physical plant itself, its facilities, social attendance, general themes, and writers of the time. Plays were important and vital to the time period, but the playhouse and factors surrounding it, really characterize the Elizabethan period. Writers and actors alike all play an important part in the theatre, and very important is the structure of the playhouses.
By far the most famous, or better-said, well known theatre of Elizabethan theatre has to be the Globe. The Globe influenced and affected all other playhouses of the time. One reason that the Globe is so famous is because of the close connection with Shakespeare. Once the Globe opened its design and equipment were so good, that it surpassed all its rivals. Within a period of five years all other theatres of its type had to be closed or replaced. In short the Globe playhouse witness and helped create the essence of the Elizabethan theatre.
The shapes and dimensions of Elizabethan theatres were strongly influenced by the shape, size and structure of the playhouse as a whole. On thing that is extremely important and vital to know, is that all the playhouses were usually built on marsh ground. The theatre had heavy okay framework, which was very valuable. The wood was the reason for the standing twenty-two-year-old theatre. Of course the wood also had its flaws, many theatres were lost to fires and rotten wood, because of rain. The playhouses were circular in form, or for the most part. Structural difficulties can be imagined in designing and building a cylindrical playhouse made out of wood. A circular seating plan wholly or partially surrounding the platform was of course ideal, but very hard to make perfect. The reason why the structure was considered to be so great is because wood does not lend itself well to bending. Wood is not easily curved; making the job of Elizabethan carpenters a hard task to say the least. Yet at every level of the playhouse, beginning with the sills and ending with the roof plates and ridgepole, all horizontal beams in the frame forming the inner and outer walls were cut by hand to the requisite curve out of balks or timber far heavier than the finished members. The total length of the wood was 1900 feet, making it a tremendous and expensive task to build theatres.
Constructing the playhouses was a difficult task, and many a time accidents occurred were more than a few people died. Accidents usually occurred when the galleries of the actual playhouse were being built. Architects of the time tried to develop better and safer playhouses. Because one could compromise setting up curved wood of seats and balustrades inside a polygonal frame, but such a plan would be structurally illogical and would materially reduce the capacity of the playhouse, to that of a house.
Playhouses of the time usually had an octagonal frame and the galleries all ended up being converted into spectator-galleries encircling a corresponding portion of the playhouse s yard. The main entrances were narrow, deliberately made so. One reason for the entrance was for the purpose of restricting the influx of spectators to a single file. At the main doorway stood an attendant known as the doorkeeper who held a box into which every person entering dropped a penny. Although sometimes they would drop two pennies, if the play was new. Once the playgoer had dropped his penny and entered he passed through a corridor leading into the benchless and unroofed area of the playhouse. If the person so wished, he could remain in that section of the theatre without paying any more money. Not much is known on the actual size of the benchless area, because people of the time who stayed there were of the lower class. And the lower class was not really the pick of the litter for authors who wrote and recorded information on the playhouses. This area was also octagonal in shape and was level. Level in the sense that the land was actually not bumpy and geographically a mess.
For one penny you could stay in the benchless area, and for two pennies you could acquire a little more. In the playhouses the two-penny areas were called the two-penny room or gallery . They basically differed in location, comfort, and price of admission. Usually the two-penny room was not reserved, but better said related to the higher class. The two-penny rooms were designed for the theatergoers of the average means, those for whose approval playwrights and actors put forth their best efforts. Writers mention the two-penny room as a setting for only certain types of spectators. These spectators of course being the people of either money or great influence in the theatre.
One way to view the accommodations is to basically list them and compare them as a whole to the theatre. The actual stage is the first accommodation, then the gentlemen s room, the two-penny rooms, and the two-penny galleries, and the yard. The is no contemporary estimate for the exact capacity of a Elizabethan theatre, but it is noted that the Swan playhouse supposedly was able to accommodate 3,000 people. Compared to the whole theatre, the two-penny rooms are the biggest ones. And although the biggest it wasn t the greatest accommodation.
A very important part of the playhouse, if not the most important was the platform stage. The front of the platforms in the playhouses were usually straight and unquestionably parallel to the middle section of the scenic wall. All platform stages are easy to depict, but less clear however, is the disposition of the stage view. Evidence that makes this a factor, is that the sides were parallel to each other and part that they were in fact not parallel, but tapering or leaning towards the front. Dimensions of the playhouses in Elizabethan theatre were all different of course, but on an average the rear platform was 41 feet wide in order to equal the width of the tiring house, and the front platform was about 24 feet. To conclude on the platform, it is said that the income from the standing people in front of the platform was never close to compensating for the fixtures and remodeling that it had to undergo. So from this the conclusion is made that the platform was high maintenance. Another part of the stage is the platform paling and rails.
A stage wouldn t be complete without traps. In Elizabethan playhouses there were many traps and other devices that operated from below the stage. Supposedly seen by the audience, the trapdoors were noticeable only when in use, and the rest of the time fitted closely, solidly, and level with the surface floor. In the plays of the time there are more than 200 instances of use for the traps and outer-stage devices. But since there are so many, it makes it hard to firmly establish the location, number, and even the size and mechanical efficiency of these traps. Traps varied in size, from small to large. Actors themselves to elaborate and present unhampered views of different spectacles handled the largest trap. Some idea of the size and mechanical possibilities of this trap are found in specific detailed stage directions.
One aspect of the theatre, which is sometimes overlooked, but indeed important, is the stage curtain. The playhouse curtains in Elizabethan theatre specifically were suspended from a fixed rod upon which the sections were caused to move laterally. Evidence concerning the mechanical details of this suspension is few. Some sources do explain that ironwork was used to hand the curtains and a whole piece of cord to draw the actual strings. The material used was very valuable (rod, rings, actual curtain) and very sturdy. Curtains were adopted from performances of mystery in England and France. The colors were various, but the most popular colors were green and yellow. Designs were sometime engraved into the curtains, usually the curtains made out of silk, rather than harsh tapestry. Flanking the lower-stage curtains and placed in the oblique walls of the theatre were the outer-stage doors, which really seemed abundant and not necessary.
So basically the theaters consisted of the entrances, the one and too penny rooms or galleries, and tiring-houses (actual stages), and last the superstructure. The superstructure or sometimes refereed to as the heavens was constructed over the tiring-house and outer stage. It was composed of three parts: and enclosed hut or loft corresponding to the tower of a modern theater; a stage-cover; and the turret supporting the flagpole and the playhouse flag. The hoisted playhouse flag does have some symbolic connotations. The flag represented the actor s prosperity. When the flag waved above the huts all was well. The flag even made the people forget about the plague and other droughts on there everyday lives. From the beginning of any play till the end, the flag was always waving. Then as the audience left, the halyards were loosened and the flag was taken down and stored away. The superstructure is basically self-explanatory, being that it was basically like a room on top of the theatre.
The physical plant is a great part of what people call Elizabethan theatre, but there is much more. The latter half of Elizabeth the First until the time of the Civil War, is when about 15 or more theatres flourished everywhere in England. Some called themselves private theatres, were built indoors for the comfortable entertainment of fairly small but select audiences; but the rest were public places built like a small Roman amphitheatre, open to the sky, and each capable of holding about 2,000 spectators. These theaters were seen as a meeting place for friends, and a learning center for actors and those interested in plays.
Elizabethan drama is remembered so vividly and respectfully for a number of reasons. One being that so much work and effort was penetrated into each and every play that was acted. Another one being that the playhouses themselves lent to such good stage directions and maneuvering of actors. One very important reason is because of how it attracted all types of people. Plays were not restricted to one kind of people. The lower class and middle class alike loved going to watch plays. Royalty was also a big part of Elizabethan drama. Not only was royalty portrayed in plays, but also it was very affectionate with the theatre and supported it.
Another essential and very important part of the Elizabethan revolution is the writers of the time. Which in a way hold the key to the period as a whole. Among the writers, the most famous and acknowledge of course is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare on his own had a huge impact on the writings of the time and theater s of the time such as the Globe, which was basically made to accommodate his plays needs. Other important writers of the time are Marlowe, Jonson, Lyly, Kyd, Dekker, and others that were not too important and didn t have a huge impact. Themes of specific writers played a big part in this time period. John Lyly plays had a big impact and usually deled with elaborate symbolic games. He also used multiple allusions in his work to manifest the mind s power over matter, and to illuminate the forces at play in our lives. Lyly basically started a trend with his writings, which continued on through Elizabethan drama.
Of course one theme that stands out on its own in this period is tragicomedy. Of course Shakespeare made most of the plays with this theme ala Romeo & Juliet. Although Elizabethan completely different to modern drama, appears to be little interested in the capacity of an image to all but reproduce sensations. This is the simplest function an image can have: the accurate transliteration of a sense impression. One thing no one can dispute is that Elizabethan drama has imagery that was deliberately and richly sensuous.
Overall Elizabethan drama and playhouses are something to admire. First, the playhouses so complicated, as they were with their octagonal shape and wood material were built so thoughtfully and planned out. Second, the drama had its own flavor and theme. The whole Elizabethan movement is very detailed from the entrance of the actual playhouses to the very stage directions of a play. Elizabethan theatre is a complete package that combines excellent writers and plays and amazing structural theatres.