The Elizabethan Theatre

What was the theatre like in the days that Shakespeare entered the theatrical world of London? There were a few playhouses when he started his career in London. Before the year 1576 plays had been performed in the great halls of universities and noblemen's houses, at the queen's court and in the yards of inns. The 16th century inn was built round a courtyard and the guestrooms opened on to the balconies, which looked down upon the yard. It seems that the design of the theatres of those days was based on a mixture of the innyard and the bear-pits, the arenas for fights between animals. The buildings were mostly made of wood and round or hexagonal, though they might be rectangular, too. The centre was an arena exposed to the open air, where the poor spectators stood; the richer ones sat in the galleries surrounding he arena. The covered stage projected into the arena so that the spectators were surrounded on three sides. There were no or hardly any stage properties. A play had usually five acts with an indefinite number of scenes in each act. Before 1660 no actresses appeared on the stage. Young boys between twelve and fourteen years of age acted the female parts.

The Reconstructed Globe in Southwark, London

Shakespeare in the reconstructed Globe is unlike performances of Shakespeare anywhere else. The Globe looks, feels and sounds different. The theatre is a circular, open-air structure where a thousand people sit in the three covered galleries and five hundred people or more stand in the yard around the stage. This makes it the third largest theatre in auditorium in London, yet it conveys a sense of intimacy. The stage is roofed. The back wall is ornately decorated with reliefs and carvings, while the ceiling is painted as the Heavens: stars, sun, moon and signs of the Zodiac. Performances take place in daylight. There is no scenery: drapes, hangings and furniture adorn the stage and set the scene - a throne for a court scene, a sofa for a domestic one. Music and sound effects are live and a part of the performance. Sounds are not amplified and no purpose lights are used. The relationship between the actors and the audience is unique. It is a really interactive experience - Elizabethan theatres expected much more audience participation than modern playhouses. As the Opening Season in 1997 showed, the 'groundlings' - those standing in the yard - do respond to this unusual space, and have confirmed the overwhelming role of the audience.

Did you know there is an open air Shakespeare theatre in Diever?