Saturday, October 27, 2007

Elizabethan Theatre

In Elizabethan times, being an actor - or what was then called a “player” – was completely different to actors nowadays. This was mainly because of the style of Elizabethan theatre. But it also depended upon 16th Century society. Creating sounds however, was used in a similar way to modern day times. The stage and its characteristics are, however, completely different to a typical western theatre and forced the actors to improvise in ways rarely explored in 21st Century western theatre.

In the 16th Century, actors were often considered mischievous by the authorities and were not respected as much as they are nowadays. They were rarely wealthy. Mostly their only source of income was from what the audience placed in a hat passed around at the end of each performance. So the quality or enthusiasm of an actor’s performance sometimes depended on how empty their stomach was. The Elizabethan stage was open to the elements. The main part of the stage and the space where the groundlings stood was vulnerable to rain showers. This meant that the audience could become agitated as well as the acting space becoming more difficult to work with (because of the water on stage). This is why the majority of plays were presented during warmer months. The part of the stage that was covered by a roof was thatched. This area was known as the heavens or the shadow. Actors had to be careful of the roof because it was typical for it to catch fire. For example, the Globe burnt down in 1613 when a canon spark used in a performance lit up the straw. In the 21st Century, it is normal to hand out or sell a programme before the performance to explain the plot to the audience. This was not always possible in Elizabethan times and often a “Dumb Show” preceded the main performance to give a brief synopsis of the story. This was however, less common in Shakespeare’s plays.

One aspect of Elizabethan theatre which still remains today is the use of sound. The stage was hollow, so actors often used the resonance of their feet on the ground to create sounds. Other actors also climbed up into the heavens (the roof) and created appropriate noises – for example, thundering noises in a thunder storm. Music and sounds were often played from behind the stage or underneath the stage to add effect and create more suspense.

One of the few characteristics of the Elizabethan stage – sounds aside – that mirrors today’s stage are the separate areas. The balcony, for example, was used for Juliet’s bedroom in Romeo and Juliet. There was always a trapdoor underneath the stage and this was often used for multiple purposes, one example is as Ophelia’s grave. The thrust part of the stage was a lot more intimate than stages of late. Soliloquies could be delivered more confidently and naturally due to the close proximity to the audience. Stage asides were a lot more personal and served a better purpose than they do today. The set was very simplistic and rarely contained any extravagant features and did not use the computer technology that is often used today. Shakespeare frequently incorporated scene setting into his script. This can be seen in Troilus and Cressida when Achilles says:
“Look Hector, how the Sun begins to set”.
Because of the apron stage and its lack of curtain it also became impossible to open or close a play or scene. Since it was open air and performances were during the day, the stage could not be hidden in complete darkness. At the end of a Shakespearean tragedy the mutilated body of the protagonist was often sprawled upon the stage. To remove the body whilst the audience was slowly leaving would ruin the illusion. Therefore, Shakespeare often incorporated the removal or hiding of the body into the script. Lodovico delivers the lines:
“Look on the tragic loading of this bed,
This is thy work; - the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid.”
in Shakespeare’s Othello so as to hide Othello’s body from the departing audience. This is not really the case in modern western theatre however since it is custom for the entire cast to go out of character – or partially out of character – and show gratitude to the audience by bowing.

In conclusion, I believe that Elizabethan theatre is a large contrast to modern day western theatre. How the actors are treated – and even titled (as players) – is very different and what I would consider disrespectful seeing as it is not easy to perform in front of a large crowd. The stage characteristics could sometimes transform the script and the weather may also alter the performance. Some things, however, have remained the same, such as the sound. But putting everything into perspective, even an experienced actor or actress of today would find the Elizabethan theatre a challenge to perform in.

Bibliography, "Shakespeare Online." Online Shakespeare. 2003 . Solonica Web Design. 27 Oct 2007 <>.

Gray, Terry A.. "Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet." Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet. 09 Aug 2007. Solonica Web Design. 27 Oct 2007 <>.

Langley, Andrew. Shakespeare's Theatre. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Performance Analysis

Düsseldorf 04.05.1996
Director: Karin Baier

- Begins after all characters leave stage except Lysander and Hermia.
- Ends when Lysander and Hermia kiss and Helena enters the stage.

Theatre space: End on, fourth wall present, so as to focus audience’s attention on actor/actor relationships instead of actor/audience.
Performance space: No different levels on stage, simple square stage with blackened out background (where orchestra lies). Once again, this could be to focus the audience’s attention and to allow the audience to come to their own conclusions of the characters instead of putting them on differentiating physical and moral grounds.
Actor space: At first, Lysander takes centre stage and Hermia is positioned in the corner. Further into the scene both actors take centre stage. This is mainly to show that this is the central – as well as only – action in this scene.
Actors movement in space: Lysander, at centre stage, makes exaggerated movements with a fixed position to emphasise his frustration. The not being able to move highlights his helplessness in the situation he is in. Hermia who is at first distant to the action becomes more engaged and comforts Lysander. They talk for a while with fairly gentle movements which represent their love for each other. As they become more excited by their new plan the tension and humour increases and so too does the levels. First Lysander stands and then Hermia follows. Thus, tension is proportional to levels in this situation. The tension is released when the two characters kiss in silence and Helena enters the stage.
Set: No set design, perhaps the director’s intention was to focus the audience’s attention on the character relationships and the complex issues that arise from the action, also, to not be distracted when they should be focused on the many complicated meanings behind the multiple languages used on stage.
Costume: Costumes describe how the characters fit into society. Hermia is wearing a suit much like the other characters. What is different about her appearance is that she is wearing beautiful sapphire jewellery and has tidy hair. This is a contrast to the other women on the stage who are viewed as fairly unattractive, untidy, and have unkempt hair. The other women are also not wearing a suit but instead wearing rather drab clothing. The effect it has is that it portrays Hermia in a very attractive light. Lysander is an outcast and is in Jewish attire. This is to underscore that Lysander is very different from most characters.
Sound: At the beginning of the scene, to build tension whilst Lysander is panicking and making exaggerated movements, there are fierce drum rolls being played. The music stops to highlight the transition between the conflict of the society clash and the calm of the two lovers together. Lysander and Hermia become more excited when they cultivate a plan and to increase tension they begin to talk louder and more frequently. This then stops to release the tension when they kiss. There is also a silence to insist in making Helena’s entrance more dramatic.erHerfer