History of Elizabethan Theatre in London 

1 January 2017

History of Elizabethan Theatre in London During Shakespeare? s time London had a great political and economic importance with a large population. Up to this moment the royal Court was seated at Westminster, with its diplomatic life and administrative decision-making. But London was also one of the main centres of English intellectual life. London was a major centre for inland and overseas trade. Both of them expanded during the Elizabethan time. It became the Establishment of the Stock Exchange. The rich merchants supported the expeditions of the pioneers and adventurers.

They sailed unknown seas and explored distant countries to open up new markets for England. Many other kinds of workers also worked in the inner city. Every social class created a colourful picture. The Londoner spent most of their spare time visiting animals fights and taverns. But the most preferred pastime was theatre-going. It was the favourite of any social group. Different kinds of Elizabethan theatres There were two kinds of Elizabethan theatres, ? public” and ? private” theatres. Both were not too away from each other.

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On the one hand the ? public” theatres were visited by various audiences. They performed plays suitable for everyone, mainly for the crowd around the stage except for the wealthier patrons who sat in a seclusion of the surrounding galleries or Lords? rooms. On the other hand the ? private” theatres which were located in halls of already existing buildings. There were benches next to the stage for the wealthy audience, but also galleries. The audience capacity was smaller and there were much higher admission prices.

According to Alfred Harbage three different Elizabethan audiences had to be distinguished. Firstly, the genteel audience which visited the private theatres. Secondly, the plebian audience which was part of the Red Bull and the Fortune consisting of plebian people apart from the expelled gentry. The Globe audience in the nineties consisted of a mixture between genteel and plebian or neither of them. Finally, there was the audience of the early decades of the seventeenth century. To sum it up this was Shakespeare? s audience for which he had written all the great Elizabethan plays.

The Shakespeare audience was composed of a predominating number of Youth, male, worldly in contrast to pious and, of course, receptive. It was the working-class which was predominant, because it was the majority of the population and the theatrical tariffs were proper for them. Capacity and prices of Elizabethan public theatres In 1605, 160. 000 people were living in Westminster, the city of London and surrounding districts. In that year about 21. 000 people which corresponds to 13% of London? s population, went to the theatre everyday.

The price of a figure for a single day was about 2,500. The audience capacity could not always be estimated exactly. In 1596, the Dutch visitor Johannes de Witt noted that the Swan was one of the largest of the five public theatres; it could hold 3. 000 people. But the other theatres had as well a considerable capacity. The Fortune could hold 2. 344 people and the Rose about 2. 500. The Rose had an average daily visit of 1,157 to 1. 250 people. But the private theatres could only hold 1. 000 people. The working-class could afford themselves the admission price.

They had to pay a penny per person for standing room in the pit or yard. It was a good place for watching the play when the weather was fine. An additional penny had to be paid for passing from the yard to the seats in the galleries. A comfortable seat in the painted galleries already cost 3 pennies. These seats were situated above the stage and were better known as “Lords rooms” or “boxes”. The cheapest fixed-price for dinner or a small pipe load of tobacco was three d (3 d). 6 d per person was the lowest price at the ? rivate” theatres, a rather high price for ordinary working men. In 1614 a quart of beer cost between 2 d and 3 d. In 1601 the average weekly wage of a London working man was 7 s (shilling). The Elizabethan ? public” playhouse In 1576, James Burbage established the first public playhouse which was built only for the aim of presenting plays. But there were no detailed drawings. It is possible to get an idea of an approximate development of the English Stage in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. It is evident that J. Burbage took the bear-baiting arenas of the 16th century as model.

The pit was paved in order to let the rain drain. The theatre had a large acting space for the players. A roof at the back of the stage was built for rain protection. At the front there also was a roof supported by pillars. This roof was also needed as the heaven and sometimes as a place from which characters could descend onto the stage. A trapdoor in the floor of the stage served as an appearance of characters from below. At one end of the hall there was the large extended stage like in the dining-halls of Cambridge and Oxford.

A thin wooden wall hid the kitchen from view. Two doors led through the wall, for the entrance and exit of actors, and above there was a small gallery for the musicians (minstrels` room). It was also used for balcony scenes. All these presumptions are speculated, because not one of the playhouses survived and there were not enough archeological evidences. The most important document of the Elizabethan stage was a sketch of the interior of the Swan theatre. According to the Dutch Johann de Witt, there are four amphitheatres in London. Two of them were of notable beauty.

Everyone of them has a diverse name with a diverse sign. There are performed different plays daily. These two more significant theatres are called the Rose and the Swan, referring to their signs. But the most significant is the Swan theatre, where 3. 000 spectators could take a seat. It is built of flint stones and supported by wooden columns which are painted as an imitation of marble so that no one could deceive them. The only copy of the sketch which has survived, is questioned by experts. There is only one detailed reconstruction of the Globe from C. W. Hodges.

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