Elizabethan Drama: Stagecraft and Society

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Elizabethan Drama: Stagecraft and Society Introduction Elizabethan drama refers to the plays produced while Queen Elizabeth reigned in England, from 1558 until 1603. It was during this time that the public began attending plays in large numbers. The opening of several good-sized playhouses was responsible for this increased patronage, the largest and most famous of which was the Globe theatre (1599), home to many of Shakespeare’s works. The most popular types of Elizabethan plays were histories of England’s rulers, but revenge dramas and bawdy comedies also drew significant crowds. Although Shakespeare was the most prolific and certainly the most famous of the Elizabethan dramatists, other popular playwrights of the period included Christopher Marlowe (Dr. Faustus) and Ben Johnson (The Alchemist). The importance was because at the peak of the Elizabethan theater there were hundreds of plays that could interest most of the people in England. The importance of the Elizabethan theater was that it showed that the country was stable. This was because when Queen Elizabeth took the crown, there was speculation of how strong England would grow and how stable it would be. Thus after establishing a strong foundation of political and economic stability, the people were significantly affected. This allowed the people to spread and increase importance in arts music and theatre.

Elizabethan Drama and Greek Drama

The drama of Shakespeare's time, the Elizabethan Age, shares some features with Greek drama. Like the Greek dramatists, Elizabethan playwrights wrote both comedies and tragedies, but the Elizabethans extended the possibilities of each genre. They wrote domestic tragedies, tragedies of character, the revenge tragedies; they contributed comedies of manners and comedies of humor to the earlier romantic and satiric comedies. In Greek and Elizabethan Theater, props were few, scenery was simple, and dialogue often indicated changes of locale and time. Elizabethan plays were typically written in verse rather than prose. An Elizabethan playhouse such as the Globe, where many of Shakespeare's plays were staged, had a much smaller seating capacity than the large Greek amphitheaters, which could seat thousands. The Globe could accommodate about 2,300 people, including roughly 800 groundlings who, exposed to the elements, stood around the stage. The stage itself projected from an inside wall into their midst. More prosperous spectators sat in one of the three stories that early encircled the stage. The vastly smaller size and seating capacity of the Elizabethan theater and the projection of its stage made for a greater intimacy between actors and audience. Though actors still had to project their voices and exaggerate their gestures, they could be heard and seen without the aid of large megaphonic masks and elevated shoes. Elizabethan actors could modulate their voices and vary their pitch, stress, and intonation in ways not suited to the Greek stage. They could also make greater and more subtle use of facial expression and of gesture to enforce greater verbal and vocal flexibility. In addition to greater intimacy, the Elizabethan stage also offered more versatility than its Greek counterpart. Although the Greek skene building could be used for scenes occurring above the ground, such as a god descending in a machine, the Greek stage was really a single-level acting area. Not so the Elizabethan stage, which contained a second-level balcony. Besides its balcony, Shakespeare's stage had doors at the back for entrances and exits, a curtained alcove, and a stage floor trapdoor, from which the Ghost ascends in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Such a stage was suitable for rapidly shifting scenes and continuous action. Thus, Elizabethan stage conventions did not include divisions between scenes in Greek drama. The act and scene divisions that appear in Othello and Hamlet were devised by modern editors.

Globe Theatre

Stagecraft Stagecraft is the...
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