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Elizabethan theatres


The birth of drama

Drama: whatever is written by a playwright (a person who write for the theatre)
Theatre: It is the place, the building
The first expression of drama dates back to the Ancient Greek, then there was the Medieval and the Elizabethan drama.
Modern theatre is different from the other.
The Middle Ages drama dealt with miracles, mysteries and morality and it had religious subjects because drama originated from the church. The first expression of drama was at Holy Mess (service) because the majority of people didn’t know Latin so the priests thought of having special performances to have people to understand the Bible stories.
The performances weren’t executed at every Mess, only for the most important Messes, like Christmas and Easter.
So the function of the most important expression of drama in church was didactic because it taught the Bible.
Then gradually, secular elements were introduced in drama and later it became independent from the church.
It was very popular, so the place of the performances changed, not in the churches anymore, but in the market square, college room, inn (or pub) yards (cortili di taverne) and in pageants (a sort of moveable cart with two levels: the upper part was used as a stage, the lower part was used to change the costume and to contain the objects/props) that moved from town to town.

The Elizabethan age

The Elizabethan age was the golden age of drama. In that period the first theatre was built in London in 1576. It was an open air theatre and it was called The Theatre. Then the company “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” (which included Shakespeare) decided to transport it so it was rebuilt and called The Globe.
During that period the government was of the Puritans. The Puritans considered the entertainment a sort of corruption, a vice so the first theatres were built outside the town, at the river south bank (near the river). Later, in 1642 Parliament closed all the theatres.
The form of the Elizabethan theatres was round or octagonal and roofless but with a covered part (the part of the galleries and a part of the stage). The stage was bigger than today and very high, it was called apron stage.
There was no curtain (=sipario) and no scenery, only few props (objects) to show the setting, there were no intervals and there was no darkness during the performances.
In the pit people was stood, in galleries there were the sits, so they were more expensive and they were used only by the upper classes and the aristocracy (the rich men). At the pit stayed the groundlings and some people sat also on the stage itself (but only privileged people). People from all social status went to the theatre because it was very popular.
The performances took place in the early afternoon (around 2 p.m.) because there was no electricity so in the evening there was no light.
The actors hadn’t a social status, they were vagabonds who had to be supported economically by rich men (patron) to act. Women were not allowed to stay in the stage so young boys played the women roles. The costumes were extremely expensive, beautiful and superb so they weren’t used. In Shakespeare’s day the director was not considered as important as the principal actor and also the clowns had several functions in Shakespeare’s plays, for example they entertained the audience during the breaks.
The relationship between the audience and the actors was different than today, during the performances there was confusion, no silence. The groundlings mediated between the stage and the galleries: they made jokes and they were encouraged by the actors to take part in productions (the audience could talk to the actors), so the relationship between the audience and the actors was very closed.
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