Hi, friends. Attending the theater today marks high social or cultural status, but believe it or not, the theater was once considered low-brow. When Shakespeare lived and wrote his plays (late 1500’s to early 1600’s), the theater culture was more akin to American baseball games in the mid-1900’s.
Indoor playhouses called Blackfriars were pricier and more luxurious, aiding in increasing the respectability of theater; however, this post focuses on the primary type of theater for the masses–open-air auditoriums. Several were built in the late sixteenth century, but one of the best remembered is the Globe. The Globe was shaped like a polygon with as many as twenty sides. It could hold 3,000 spectators. Higher seats were deemed better because of the broader perspective (like sitting in the back pew at church); the seats near and above the stage were considered the best in the house.
Facts About the Theater in Shakespeare’s Day:
- The stage was bare–no background or scenery.
- Information about characters, setting, etc. was all deduced from dialogue.
- Eye-popping, elaborate costumes were mandatory; however, those clothes were so expensive that they were endlessly recycled, so the costumes were usually incongruent with the play’s setting.
- Women’s roles were played by men. [Dramas were banned the year that the English Civil War began in 1642. Women started acting when the monarchy was restored and dramas became legal again in 1660.]
- Stagehands created special effects like the sound of thunder from an enclosed space high above the stage.
- More men attended than women, likely due to literacy.
- Audiences were mixed–aristocrats, merchants, laborers, whores, etc.
- Actors fell low on the social ladder, equating to vagabonds and beggars.
- Several theaters were built below the Thames River near taverns and brothels because people already went to the area for entertainment.
Thanks for reading! Info came from The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare. ISBN: 0312248806.