Shakespeare's Theatre

By Camilo Henao, Sierra Summers, and Sarah Demarest

Indoor and Outdoor

It was during the early 1950's that the building of theatres in London started. With very different styles, the indoor and outdoor theatres were two different types of playhouses accommodating a variety of people. The outdoor theatres, described as public playhouses, were capable of accommodating large number of audiences. While, the indoor private theatres were designed to sit much smaller playgoers. These buildings were very different from today's theatres, the most significant difference being the open air playhouses. The theatre's design and layout were also dramatically different, "some were polygonal or roughly circular in shape" (xxxv). Recent studies estimate the theatre's diameter to be 72 feet to 100 feet, allowing for large audiences of two or three thousand. Those who wished to pay extra sat in the two or three levels that surrounded the open yard, where those less fortunate paid less to see the stage. The size of the stage is uncertain, but some sketches have "led scholars to conjecture that the state on which Shakespeare's plays were performed must have measure 43 feet in width and 27 feet in depth, a vast acting area" (xxxvii). Even though not much is known about Shakespeare's theatres, archaeological and historical research have provided a vast amount of information.
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The Theatres

1567: The Theater was built just outside of London by James Burbage, possibly the most prominent actor of Lord Chamberlin’s Men, Shakespeare’s acting company. It is considered the first London outdoor theater and was home to the company for many years. Difficulties with renewing the lease on the land of this theater prompted them to move.
1596: The Blackfriars private playhouse was constructed by James Burbage in the upper hall of a Dominican priory. It only seated around 1000 people and was for more stately spectators. Lord Chamberlin’s Men preformed here often.
1599: Lord Chamberlin’s Men moved to the Bankside, a region owned by the Church of England, and here they prospered. The boards from The Theater were used to erect The Globe. Unfortunately, this theater burned down in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII.
1614: The second Globe was built in on the same land as the first. It “seems to have been a grander structure than its processor” (xxxv). This theater remained until the beginning of the English Civil War in 1642, when Parliament closed all theaters.
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Inside the theatres

Inside the Theatre-During Shakespeare’s era, the performance aspect of theater was a lot different then it is today. One of the most notable differences were the genders of the actors. Since women were not allowed to perform on stage, all female roles were performed by men in drag. Theater troupes also could not often afford props, and had to make due with items available. The shows were trademark “bare stage”, a minimalist approach with lesser props and backdrops that rejected the elaborate sets of previous decades, and would often make use of trapdoors and back curtains around the theater. Actors also used stairs for scenes which required height, such as the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet.
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