The Elizabethan playhouse developed from the medieval inn with its rooms grouped around a courtyard into which a stage was built. This pattern was used in The Theatre, built by James Burbage in 1576: a square frame building (later round or octagonal) with square yard, three tiers of galleries, eache jutting out over the one below, and a stage extending into the middle of the yard, where people stood or sat on improvised seats. There was no cover over the yard or stage and lighting was therefore natural. Thus performances wew what we might consider the late matinees or early evening performances; in summer, daylight continues in
until around . London
Other theaters were constructed during the ensuing years: The Curtain in 1577, The Rose in 1587, The Swan in 1595, and Shakespeare’s playhouse, The Globe, in 1599.
There was no real scenery and there were only a few major props; thus the lines of the play had to reveal locations and movement, changes in time or place, etc. In this way, too, it was easier to establish a nonrealistic setting, for all settings were created in words. On either side of the stage were doors, within the flooring were trapdoors (for entrances of ghosts, etc), and behind the main stage was the inner stage or recess. Here indoor scenes (such as a court or a bedchamber) were played, and some props could be used because the inner stage was usually concealed by a curtain when not in use. It might also have served to hide someone behind the ever-present- arras, like Polonius in Hamlet.
The ‘chamber’ was on the second level, with windows and a balcony.
On the third level was another chamber, primarily for musicians.
The four sides of the building looking into a large yard, the stage at one end of the yard. Tiers of galleries (or verandas), leading into inn bedrooms, would provide viewing-places for the ‘better sort’, while the common peolpe stand in the yard itself.
The plots of the Elizabethan plays were usually adapted from other sources. ‘Originality’ was not the sought quality; a kind of variation on the theme was. It was felt that one could better evaluate the playwright’s worth by seeing what he did with a familiar tale. What he stressed, how he stressed it, how he restructured the familiar elements-these were the important matters.
There is a mixture of verse and prose in the plays, partially because plays fully in verse were out of fashion. Elevated passages, philosophically significant ideas, speeches by men of high rank are in verse, but comic and light parts,speeches and scenes that move rapidly or simply give mundane information are in prose.
An acting company such as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men was a fellowship of ten to fifteen sharers with some ten or twelve extras, three or four boys (often to play women’s roles) who might become full sharer and stagehands. There were rival companies, each with its leading dramatist and leading tragic actor and clown. Some of the rivalry of this War of Theaters is reflected in the speeches of Hamlet, who also comments on the ascendancy and unwarranted popularity of the children’s companies in the late 1590’s.
The company dramatist, of course, had to think in terms of the members of his company as he wrote his play. He had to make use of the physical features and peculiar talents of the actors, making sure, besides, that there was a role for each member. The fact that women’s parts were taken by boys imposed obvious limitations on the range of action. Obviously,too, if a certain kind of character was not available within the company, then that kind of character could not be written into the play. The approach was decidedly different from ours today, where the play almost always comes first and the casting of roles later.
Shakespeare MACBETH Notes . Coles
Anthony Burgess ,English Literature. Longman