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.
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