We don’t
actually know if
he looks like
this, for all we
know, he could
have looked like
this…
Elizabethan Theatre Research
The Performances
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The performances of the Elizabethan times were set
out very differently from present day theatre.
The actors were only given their part of the script
usually including one or two script lines – good
because they had to listen and react, and
inexpensive to print.
Mostly open air theatres – actors had to speak
loudly over audiences noise, who were seated
around three sides of the stage, meaning the actors
had to perform to each side.
Set and props very minimal, sometimes non-existent.
Text = key component of plays – common saying
“going to hear a play”. Scene would be painted
through words.
Only men onstage, so young boys would play the
women.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
The Performances
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Entrances and exits could only be made through
one door at the back of the stage - careful
rehearsing was needed to avoid ‘door traffic’.
Evil characters would also sometimes enter and exit
through a trap door leading under the stage – a
type of hell.
Characters undergoing intense emotional
upheaval would show certain identifiable
symptoms as it was believed a persons emotional
and physiological states were linked. One symptom
was going pale or red, this ability to change
complexion at will was a highly valued talent in
actors.
Theatres were built especially for plays – such as in
Romeo and Juliet where a balcony was used.
Performances were usually lengthy – as all
afternoon entertainment with several intermissions
Elizabethan Theatre Research
The Acting Companies
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Elizabethan Theatre was very popular, and without men (women
could not act or perform) to act there would have been no plays.
Because of this reason, acting troupes were formed.
Lord Strange's Men.
Briefly known as the Earl of Darby's men, this troupe was well known
as acrobats. They were very active while performing, lots of physical
work. In the early 1580s they toured the provinces of England, before
appearing at Court. In 1588, the leader of the troupe, along with
many others went to join rivals, Queen Elizabeth's Men. In the same
year, they also associated with the Admiral's men. Both troupes
performed plays at The Theatre and The Rose, which included many
of Shakespeare's plays. In 1594 Lord Strange died, the group left
London to go back to the provinces. Those who did not agree with
the choice joined the Chamberlain's Men.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
The Acting Companies
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Chamberlain's Men + King's Men.
Briefly known as the Hundon's Men, this troupe was
considered the most important company in
Elizabethan England. In 1597 Henry Carey (Lord
Chamberlain) died, his son George took over the
company. It was again known as the Lord
Chamberlain's Men, until March 1603 when it was
taken under royal patronage and known as the
King's Men.
Admiral's Men.
Briefly known as Lord Howard's Men, named after
Charles Howard. In 1585, Lord Howard became
the Lord Admiral of England (leading to the name
change of the Admiral's Men). For a brief period
they were considered the finest Elizabethan
troupe, until the Chamberlain's Men gained a
following. By 1631 the company had disbanded.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Physicality of the Style
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More than eight hundred characters appear in Shakespeare’s thirtyeight plays.
Variety of heroes, villains, kings and queens, the young and the old.
Stock characters are used that are subject to little development or
complexity, figures familiar to any audience, readily recognized and
enjoyed by the audience. The group is made of smart-talking
servants, inept police men, common citizens or soldiers, court fops,
and other various figures, who demonstrate the stereotypical, often
comic, qualities of their origins, whether they be English, Welsh,
French, Italian, or Spanish.
Shakespeare’s characters are often complex; they are torn on
divided loyalties, sudden passion, joy. These are important to the
audience as the characters mirror emotions people have in everyday
life.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Physicality of the Style
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Aside from Shakespeare’s poetic powers, it is the range and depth of his
characters that are outstanding to the plays. These are figures that may be
found:
Lovers, those who are young, innocent, vulnerable.
Villains, both those who act out of inbred evil and those who are drawn to
treachery by lust, envy, hatred, or ambition.
Figures of authority, such as Roman emperors, monarchs of many realms,
lordly dukes, senators, generals, a fairy king.
The young, in careless pursuit of pleasure or as innocent victims of their elders,
scheming to evade parental designs.
The aged, wise, foolish, in their fading years either cursing the trick that time
has played on them.
Mothers, some fiercely ambitious and protective of their children, others sunk
in sorrow of their loss. The range of Shakespeare’s characters is
extraordinary, as we follow the unfolding events that lead to each
character. For example, Othello transforms from a dotting husband into a
brutal murder, for revenge.
Some characters have little change in their actions, for example Richard
the third is a wicked character at the end as he is at the beginning. A
character like himself can lead themselves to a more analytic approach.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Use of Voice
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The fact is that we don’t entirely know exactly what
Shakespeare’s English sounded like. It is thought that it was
somewhere between Australian, Cornish, Irish, Scottish and a
dash of Yorkshire. It did not sound like the ‘English’ accent of
today.
Accent altered between social classes and was dependent
on where you lived – city, country etc.
Actors were expected to be heard everywhere in the theatre,
with no microphones and audiences of 2000 people so
projection was immensely important.
Song used in the plays, boys who were accomplished singers
and actors would perform the songs.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Use of Voice
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It is common in Shakespeare’s scripts to find that the rhythm of
the words are written in, this is called iambic pentameter and
suggests the way the words should be spoken. To understand
iambic pentameter, you first need to understand the term
''iamb.'' The words ''annoy,'' ''fulfill,'' ''pretend,'' ''regard,'' and
''serene'' are all iambs because the one syllable of each word
is unstressed and the one syllable is stressed. Here is an
example from Romeo and Juliet.
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
Here are two more lines from Romeo and Juliet that also
demonstrate the use of iambs:
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I will not fail: 'tis twenty years till then.
I have forgot why I did call thee back.
When a line has five iambs, it is in iambic pentameter.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Mannerisms of Movement and Gesture
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The physical movement of a character during
a play.
May include facial expressions, and body
language.
Sometimes a playwright will be very explicit
about bodily and facial gestures in the stage
directions.
Shakespearian acting style is termed today as
being melodramatic – distinguished by
emphasized and exaggerated displays of
emotions and stock characters.
Important because audiences were large
and loud.
Movements and gestures also spelt out the
intricate details of the play which could not
exist in props or scenery.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Use of Multiple Modes of Performance
Dance:
 Dance played an important part in Elizabethan life, therefore
it also played a large part in Shakespeare’s plays.
 Shakespeare sometimes used to dance to explain a situation
or a persons feelings to the audience, if it could not be
explained in words.
 In ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the masked dance is a key moment in
the play, as it is what finally brings the pair together. This is an
example of Shakespeare’s use of dance to develop important
moments etc.. Another example of this is in the play ‘As you
like it’, when a dance is used to bring the play to a happy
conclusion.
 Shakespeare used dance as a way of making uninteresting
parts of the play more entertaining.
Elizabethan Theatre Research
Use of Multiple Modes of Performance
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Music:
Shakespeare re-invented the
way music was used in drama
and in doing so, he shaped the
use of music in dramatic
productions, films and
television today.
Shakespeare used music as a
way of enhancing his
comedies.
Shakespeare believed that
music played a key part in
creating a ‘dramatic force’ in
his plays.
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Elizabethan Theatre Research - stonedrama