Elizabethan Theatre and Its Audience

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Elizabethan Theatre and its Audience

Soumita Samaddar
Roll: ME10 00 14
Year: M A English, 2nd Semester
Supervisor: Prof. Tamalika Das

The posthumous impact of ancient Rome has an unsurpassable influence on the historical background of Elizabethan Theatre. The defining feature of the period is the growth of a modern consciousness, which has another alternative name, ‘Early Modern’. This is not only apparent in the theatre of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century but in present time also. During Middle Ages the individual artists were evolved first. These artists, normally poor and depended on the audience’s generosity, were essentially minstrels. They used to perform in the King’s court, social festivals or market places. The church did not support these minstrels but some of the priests imitated their techniques and amalgamated religious guidance and secular stories. Thus, they invented ‘Dramatic Rituals’, which were spoken in Latin language and enacted by clerics. In the course of time, these dramatic rituals became the basis of biblical stories, presented in liturgical and dramatic manner in the church which was considered to be the stage and the audience sat amidst the actors. During thirteenth and fourteenth centuries this method experienced a huge change. The new secularized version of drama found its expression in English instead of Latin. The convention of script was invented. Even characters were developed from homely and comic ground. People came across the evolution of Mystery, Morality and Miracle plays. But during Renaissance, the Elizabethan theatre reached the position of excellence. Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne of England in the year 1558. At that point of time there were no specially designed buildings in England. There were some companies of actors which toured the country and delivered their performances in a wide variety of temporary acting spaces, sometimes building stages and scenery for particular series of performances. There were even records of actors performing in churches, Royal palaces, Inn Yards, Town Halls, Town Squares or anywhere else where a large number of people could gather to view a performance. These acting companies were very small and mobile by nature. These were composed of five to eight players including a young male member who played all the female roles. In spite of this background the focus is on the larger companies that inhabited the larger theatre buildings that were built later in Queen Elizabeth’s reign (up to 1603). But these larger companies also toured the Provinces when the London theatres were closed owing to the epidemic, Plague. When Queen Elizabeth came to rule, laws were passed to control the wandering beggars and vagrants. According to these laws any actor, who toured and performed without the support of a member of a highest rank or nobility, would be considered as a criminal. As a punishment that person was driven out or if he continued in doing so, he was forced to become servants to Lords and Ladies of the realm officially. The first permanent theatres in England were the old inns—the Cross Keys, the Bull, the Bel Savage and the Bell. Even some of these had substantial alterations that enabled them to be playhouses. Particularly, The Red Lion in Stepney had a rough auditorium with scaffolding galleries built around the stage area. This design casted a great influence upon the later built theatres such as The Theatre and the Globe. The architecture and structure of the Elizabethan theatre were very interesting. The amphitheatre of this era was an open air arena, octagonal in shape. Even sometimes the number of sides varied from 8-24. This kind of amphitheatre was almost 100ft in diameter. The materials required for construction were nails, timber, flint stones, plaster, thatched roof etc. builders required almost six months to accomplish the construction. These were capable to accommodate 1500-3000...
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