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Elizabethan Theater: A Popular Form of Entertainment During the Elizabethan Era

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Elizabethan Theater: A Popular Form of Entertainment During the Elizabethan Era

William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Francis Beaumont - these are just of few of the playwrights that contributed to the popularity of the Elizabethan theater. The Elizabethan theater took place during the Elizabethan Era that lasted from 1558 to 1603. Named after Queen Elizabeth the I, the Elizabethan Era has been celebrated as a fascinating period in England’s history. This Golden Age, has been noted as a time of change, and marked the height of the English Renaissance. Unique development of music, poetry, literature, and drama surfaced during this time period. The Elizabethan Era delighted in many forms of entertainment. Among these included fairs, festivals, jousts, tournaments of fencing, hunting, banquets, and bear and bull baiting. Bear and bull baiting was a vicious form of entertainment that involved bears and bulls fighting against dogs and was one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite pastimes (Mabillard). Out of all of the forms of entertainment enjoyed by the English patrons, none was more popular than the Elizabethan Theatre. The places where plays were performed, the types of plays performed as well as their playwrights, and the social period of the time that these plays took place, made the Elizabethan theater a popular form of entertainment during the Elizabethan Era.

One aspect that made Elizabethan theater so popular were the many different places where the plays were performed and how these facilities evolved over the course of the era. The first plays performed during that time took place in public areas such as town squares. As performances required a more permanent venue, the arise of inn-yards became popular. Inn-yards allowed for acting troupes who sought lodging at inns or taverns a place to perform as well as a place to stay. The acting troupes negotiated with the owner of the inn to perform there, and the owner would charge the people who came to watch the performances a fee. The owner also sold alcoholic beverages to the patrons. “All parties would therefore benefit. The bigger the audience at the inn, the more profits the owners made” (“Elizabethan Theater, Playhouses & Inn-Yards”). Inn-yards were able to hold an audience of up to 500 people. The stage not being on a permanent foundation proved to be the only disadvantage of inn-yards; for they had to be broken down and rebuilt after each performance (Alchin). “The stage was constructed on moveable platforms supported by Trestles. The temporary stages were erected by the actors” (Alchin). Despite the inn-yard’s only flaw, performances at the inn-yards became very popular, while at the same time providing an inexpensive and exciting form of entertainment.

Inn-yards later gave way to amphitheaters. James Burbage built the first amphitheater in 1576 and simply called it ‘The Theater’ (“Elizabethan Theater, Playhouses & Inn-yards)”. Barbage enlisted the help of Dr. John Dee and his impressive architectural library to design ‘The Theater’. The amphitheater had a similar style to the Roman Amphitheater but much smaller. Like in-yards, performances in the amphitheaters were also held outdoors, but the stages of the amphitheater were on a fixed and permanent foundation and had the capacity to hold up to 3,000 people (“Elizabethan Theater, Playhouses & Inn-Yards”). According to an article entitled, “Elizabethan Theater, Playhouses & Inn-Yards”, ‘The Theater’ was very popular. The article goes on to state, “For the Elizabethans this was a totally new innovation in entertainment. It would have had the same effect as the movies did at the turn of the 20th century. It was exciting! It was popular! It was the place to go!” (“Elizabethan Theater, Playhouses & Inn-Yards”)

Inn-yards and amphitheaters and their outdoor performances paved the way for performances to perform indoors. The advent of playhouses enabled for plays to be performed indoors all year round as opposed to inn-yards and amphitheater plays that could only be performed outdoors, due to being vulnerable to weather conditions and daylight hours. Playhouses were much smaller than amphitheaters; being able to only seat about 500 patrons. The playhouses accented beautiful scenery as well as music and songs, due to the acoustics in the indoor theater being well suited for amphitheaters. (Alchin). Candlelight illuminated the evening hours, and when the candles began to burn out, the owners offered the guests food and drinks for a price, while the production replaced them. Playhouses catered to nobility because it provided a luxurious and comfortable setting that this noble group of people were accustomed to, which was quite expensive to attend. Common people were rarely seen there due to not having enough money to afford it (“The Elizabethan Era Theaters in England, Stages, Amphitheaters, Inn-yards and Playhouses”). According to an article entitled, “Elizabethan Playhouses,” by L. K. Alchin, “Everyone in the private theatre audience was given a seat - the higher the price of admission, the more comfortable the seat was” (Alchin). The luxury and comfort of the playhouses stimulated many powerful and wealthy people to attend, such as Queen Elizabeth herself. She was well known for attending plays performed at playhouses (Woog, 76).

One of the most famous playhouses of all time was The Globe Theatre. William Shakespeare performed many of his greatest plays there (The Old Globe Theatre). In order to compete with the rival troupe, The Admiral’s Men, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men troupe decided to build the Globe Theatre in 1599. They had a difficult time getting the Globe Theatre built at first due to a lack of money, but the troupe came up with a plan to partner with Richard Burbage and Cuthbert Burbage, sons of James Burbage, in which they would each own a percentage of the theatre (“The Old Globe Theater”). They made a lot of money on ticket sales from their own performances as well as sales from renting out the theatre to other troupes. The troupe advertised their performances by erected flags on the day of the performance. The flags contained a picture and were color coded so that people would know what type of performance would be shown. A white flag meant a comical play, a black flag meant a tragic play, and a red flag meant a historical play (Woog, 105). The popularity of William Shakespeare and his plays made the Globe Theater a very popular for people to go to watch theatrical performances. During one of the performances in 1613 the thatch roof of the theatre caught fire due to a cannon fired during the play and burned the playhouse to the ground. They rebuilt the Globe Theatre the following year. Several years later the Puritan



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