In most Elizabethan plays, the violent acts occur offstage. These acts are then reported onstage by one character to other characters, and thus the audience learns of action that does not need to be enacted directly. This convention allowed Elizabethan dramatists to include huge battles as part of the "action" of their plays without the theaters having to hire hundreds of actors to perform the plays.
Also, horrific acts of brutality that are difficult to execute onstage are often more effective when described than when actually shown. Members of the audience must use their imaginations to visualize the carnage, often creating a scene in their minds, much worse than ever could be created on the stage. The Elizabethan dramatists borrowed this tradition from Greek tragedy. The tradition changed, however, with the development of the "blood tragedy" also known as "revenge tragedy". In these plays, acts of violence are performed onstage, in full view of the audience.
Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy is one of the best-known plays of this genre.
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Webster's tragedies, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi , were also noted in their time for graphic violence, which required staging in a controlled environment. Boys' companies were performing troupes that were made up entirely of young boys. The practice of using boys in the English theater dates back to the early s, when choirboys sang and performed at court for the king, and during Elizabethan times, these acting companies were still usually under the training and direction of a choirmaster.
During the latter part of the s, boys' companies were very popular. Their popularity faded around the turn of the century, however, due to several scandals that took place. In , Nathaniel Giles, manager of the Chapel Children, was charged with kidnapping boys and forcing them into servitude as actors, and in , Henry Evans, another manager of the Chapel Children, involved the boys in several politically controversial plays. Public support for the troupes waned, and boys' companies dissolved around Masques were short entertainments that were held at Court as one part of a royal evening of entertainment.
They were much shorter than regular plays.
Masques usually contained romantic and mythological themes and consisted of elaborate settings in which players posed, danced, and recited poetic lines of dialogue. Nobles and guests of the Court would often take part, and although women were banned from appearing on the public stage, they were allowed to participate in Court masques. Queen Elizabeth I held very few court masques, but when James I took the throne, masques were revived with increasing grandeur. Ben Jonson was the primary writer of masques during the reign of James I, but other playwrights also tried their hand at the form.
Many acting troupes performed in the courtyards of English inns both before and after permanent theaters were built. The inns were usually multi-storied, U-shaped buildings, and they prefigured the design of the public playhouses. Players constructed a rough stage made of boards on trestles at one end of the courtyard, and audience members would stand in the yard to watch the performance. Well-to-do patrons brought their own chairs and watched from the balconies overlooking the courtyard. Playing inn courtyards was sometimes difficult for acting troupes because their performances could be interrupted or even cancelled if the business at the inn was brisk.
Interludes are short plays that were often performed during a break in a royal or noble banquet. They were typically a small scene or conversation between two or more persons. Diane Yancey sees interludes as an important link to English secular drama: "By shying away from religious themes, the interludes made it acceptable for the later Elizabethan dramatists to write plays that had little, if anything, to do with the Bible. Miracle plays were also known as "mysteries," from the Latin word ministerium , which means "act.
Residents of English towns would gather along the streets to watch the plays, which were performed on moveable stages known as pageant wagons. Several miracle plays would make up an entire cycle; the first play was presented, and then its wagon would move along to the next stop on the street while another wagon moved in to take its place. The second part of the play was performed on this pageant wagon, and then it would move along, and so on. This procession would continue until the entire history of the Bible had been told.
Because of this convention of staging, these productions were also known as cycle plays.
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The structure of miracle plays had an important influence on English history plays. As Diane Yancey notes, "Histories borrow medieval techniques found in miracle plays, including rearranging historical events, using anachronisms, and writing a subplot that parallels the main plot.
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Morality plays were religious plays that first appeared in the fourteenth century. They most likely had their beginnings when popular outdoor preachers began telling stories that applied biblical teachings to the problems of daily living. They began as biblical allegories but gradually became more and more secularized. They were one of the major links between the religious and professional stages.
But as the morality play was increasingly secularized during the sixteenth century, the distinctions vanished between it and the type of play commonly labeled 'interlude. Indoor, roofed theaters were known as "private theaters" during Elizabethan times, even though the public could attend the performances. These playhouses catered to a more aristocratic audience and were different from the public theaters in many ways: they accommodated less than one-half as many spectators; they charged considerably higher admission prices; seats were provided for all spectators; and, candles were used for illumination.
The Blackfriars, the first private theater, opened its doors in Coincidentally, this same year the first public theater opened. It was built as part of a former monastery. Until , private theaters were used exclusively by boys' companies. After that time, the popularity of the children faded, and the private theaters passed into the hands of adult troupes. The first permanent theater in England opened in It was called The Theatre and was built by James Burbage, who based its design upon the English inn courtyards.
It formed a model for numerous English playhouses that were to follow. It is not known exactly what Elizabethan playhouses looked like because no detailed drawings have been discovered as of , but some extant sketches from audience members in attendance do remain. From these drawings, along with some written reports and other documents, historians have concluded that most of the Elizabethan playhouses were similar in structure. They were many-sided, open-air structures, made of a timber frame covered with clay plaster or mortar.
They had three tiers of galleries with a thatched roof covering only the gallery seating area and the rear, housed-in part of the stage. This stage-house was also called a tiring house because it was the area in which the actors attired themselves for the plays.
The playing area was an open-air platform that protruded into the middle of the yard, and the lower-class patrons would stand on the ground surrounding the stage; thus they were called groundlings. Aristocratic patrons would pay more to sit in the tiered galleries, and very wealthy patrons could pay to actually be seated onstage. The flourishing of the arts, which began in the Elizabethan Age, continued into the Jacobean Age. King James I was himself a scholar and a writer. The literature of this generation is characterized by a darker, more cynical view of the world.
The literature of the Jacobean Age includes Shakespeare's tragedies, tragi-comedies, and sonnets; Webster's tragedies; Jonson's dramas and verse; Sir Francis Bacon 's essays; and the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. The Jacobean Age came to an end with the co-occurrence of an economic depression, the death of King James I, and the outbreak of the bubonic plague in London, a serious infestation that killed over 30, people in Every play had to be submitted to the Master of Revels for licensing before performance.
He acted as the official censor and would often force the deletion of passages or references that were deemed offensive. Critical comments on the policies or conduct of government. Unfavorable presentations of friendly foreign powers or their sovereigns, great nobles or subjects. Comment of religious controversy. Profanity after Personal satire of influential people.
The Office of Revels was originally established to select and supervise all entertainment of the sovereign, but as time progressed, its power grew. In , a patent was issued that centralized the regulation of all plays and players with the Master of Revels. The man holding this position became powerful and prestigious, for he could significantly change the tone and intent of any production through censorship or could prevent the production from occurring altogether. The position was also lucrative, as the Master of Revels received a tidy sum for each play that was licensed.
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The Puritans were extremely zealous Protestants who held strict views on matters of religion and morality. They shunned all forms of entertainment, including music and dancing, because they believed that these diversions turned a person's thoughts from concentration upon the Bible and spiritual matters. Puritans considered the theater to be an ungodly institution and denounced it as wicked and profane. Throughout the Elizabethan era, they actively campaigned against the public playhouses because they felt that such institutions threatened England's morality.
Numerous Puritan writers produced pamphlets warning against the dangers of attending the theater and attacked the actors as sinners and heretics.
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As John Addington Symonds notes in his essay "Theatres, Playwrights, Actors, and Playgoers," "The voices of preachers and Puritan pamphleteers were daily raised against playhouses. The bubonic plague, or Black Death , which had begun in southern Europe, originally made its way to England around Although this was well before the Elizabethan era, the effects of the plague continued to be felt for centuries.
Plague broke out frequently, and London was visited by the dreaded disease in , —, , —, and During the outbreak of , over 30, people died. The plague was so deadly because of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the city of London.
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Fleas carried by rats spread the plague, and the overcrowded conditions provided ample breeding grounds and hosts for the disease-carrying insects. These conditions also caused the disease to spread quickly once someone had been infected. The term "plague-sore," an insult that can be found in the drama of the time, is a reference to the visible sores that would cover people's bodies once they had contracted bubonic plague. Actors were subject to the same laws as vagrants and were in danger of arrest if they could not prove that they had a permanent residence. In order to avoid persecution, they sought a noble patron to support and promote them.
They became servants of the nobleman, thus providing him more prestige. In return, the nobleman would protect them if they got into trouble.
He did not pay them regular wages or allowances, however. In , noble patronage became very significant because of a law that allowed only registered servants of a nobleman to go on tour. Since touring was one of the main sources of income for theater troupes, it was necessary for the actors to gain patronage to survive financially. Niccolo Machiavelli , a sixteenth-century Italian philosopher, was famous for the political theories put forth in his book, The Prince. Machiavelli believed in man's capacity for determining his. Today: Names are spelled consistently, and, for legal purposes, each person's signature is consistent as well.
Today: Most plays are performed indoors in the evening. They are illuminated by electric lighting. Today: Thousands of sophisticated surgical techniques are available that have been proven safe and effective.