Shakespeare's Theater

Michelle White, Phil Ianozi, Colin Delarso

Early Outdoor Theaters

An actor had to have great poise and skills in acting to perform in a Shakespearian play. They had to take on roles that may have been uncomfortable for them. Women were not allowed to act in the plays. All women parts were played and acted as a man. The actors were also not limited to performing on the stage. They sometimes were sent under the stage where they would appear through a trap door somewhere on the stage during a scene. The actors also hid behind the hangings across the back and front of the stage. Polonius does this in Hamlet when he hides behind the Arras. The actors also acted as businessmen. Philip Henslowe would lease “The Rose” theater to other companies and acting groups. Shakespeare and five others were shared owners of the globe. These men were considered “vagabonds and sturdy beggars” if they had not secured themselves in the ranks of servants and patrons. These actors were not only actors but businessmen as well.

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Other Theater Styles

While open theaters were common in Shakespeare's time, he also performed some plays at indoor venues. Specifically, Shakespeare often used a private playhouse in Blackfriars. James Burbage made this in 1596 as a monastic house and meeting place for Parliament but this enclosure made it a personal and intimate venue. The candle-lit stage was located at the narrow end of a hall with box seating and standing room. Since it was so small, the price of admissions was about five times the cost of outdoor venues.
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The Stage

Just as the theaters were different in Shakespeare's era, the stages themselves had different structures. There were no curtains separating the stage and audience, forcing the playwrights to signal the end of scenes creatively, often by having the actors exit and enter at the end and start of each scene. If the characters were in the next scene, they would often reveal changes to the setting through dialogue. For example, when Romeo stays onstage, Capulet's servingmen walk in to signal the new scene. Due to this, many of Shakespeare's plays did not have specific settings. Similarly, Shakespeare's stage is often called the "bare stage," referring to the simplistic style. Nonetheless, the stages did have some settings, holding more than just actors.
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Actors

The early well-known actors that performed in many of Shakespeare’s plays would perform at various different places before the Globe theaters were constructed. Great Halls in royal residences would often house performances as well as at notable Universities such as Cambridge and Oxford. Often times many rich individuals would schedule private performances right in their own homes during parties and other special events. Since the Bubonic plague was very infectious, many of the outdoor theaters that housed large amounts of people were closed for long periods of time to prevent the spread of the disease in the cities. Therefore London acting and play companies would go on tour all around Britain. Shakespeare’s plays then moved to playhouses such as the Globe which was constructed in 1576 North of London. Other well-known playhouses such as the Rose, the Swan, and the Hope were all located close together while being outside the jurisdiction of London officials who wished to abolish playhouses.

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