The elizabethan theatre: a short history



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THE ELIZABETHAN THEATRE: A SHORT HISTORY

       Traditionally in England, productions of


       plays by the strolling 'companies' of         players (who had succeeded the mediæ-         val guilds as public presentors of drama        by Shakespeare's time) had taken place         in the courtyards of country (a)            .          The first true English playhouse,          erected in 1576 by ex-carpenter-turned         actor Richard Burbage outside London's        North Gate at the foot of Highgate Hill,         was called "The (b)                       ." When        the lease for the land upon which it         stood expired in 1599, it was dismantled         and its timbers carried across the frozen         Thames for the construction of the most         famous Bankside theatre, Shakespeare's         (c)                     (pictured opposite), which
       in "The Prologue" to Henry V the drama-        tist termed a "wooden O." The other, less well-known Shoreditch theatre, "The Curtain," had deteriorated badly by the late 1590s. The remaining playhouses of the period included "The Swan," "Blackfriars" (a private, indoor theatre in London itself), "The Fortune" (for which the contract still exists), and "The Rose" (home of Lord Strange's Men). These playhouses were the London headquarters of the various theatrical companies who were named after their noble sponsors, such as The Lord Admiral's Men. Shakespeare's company was called The Lord (d)                  Men until 1604, when they became The (e)          Men because the coun-try's new monarch, James the First himself, had chosen to sponsor them. Such spon-sorship was necessary because the City Fathers distrusted playhouses as places where (f)                     might break out,  unruly elements assemble, religion be mocked (acting, a kind of lying, was vaguely a sin), and thieves, pickpockets, cutpurses, and (g)                     
ply their  trades. The square yard or (h)                 ,where the poorest patrons stood, was enclosed by an upper gallery, where ale and other refreshments were served.
From Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970).

            In these open-air theatres, which were generally only open for two seasons,


(i)                   and (j)                    , the better the seat, the more expensive. The shilling patrons sat on the (l)                     itself, the three-penny customers on stools under cover in the (m)                     . It is estimated that the maximum capacity for such a playhouse might be between 2,300 and 3,000, more than that of most modern theatres but far less than that of the classical Greek theatron at Epidaurus or Athens. Features typical of all these playhouses included a jutting apron stage, a curtained-off recess or study, the tarrass or gallery above, a musicians' gallery above that, a (n)"                    " underneath the stage, and a trap. The flag, flown to announce the afternoon's performance, might contain a logo suggesting the theatre's name; at the Globe, for example, the flag depicted the Græco-Roman demigod (o)                     carrying the world on his shoulders and the motto "Totus mundus agit histrionem" ("All the world's a [p]                    " ).
Locate the following:     Since the London Common  Trap        Council, composed largely
Pit or Yard       of mercantile (q)                    ,
Heavens        disapproved of music, dance, and  Balconies       plays, the theatres were forced to  Lords' Room       outside its jurisdiction, either in  Tiring House       Shoreditch to the north or in
Musicians' Gallery      Southwark, where fairs had once  Inner Stage       been held, in Cheapside. Even so, Pillars        during the warmer months, as the
Proscenium       result of outbreaks of (r)                 Foot-lights       plague, theatres were often  Hut        closed. The seasonally-unemploy-
Cellarage       ed actors were often regarded sus-        piciously as (s)                    by local sheriffs in consequence. During the "Cloth of Gold" pageant in Henry VIII, during the discharge of cannon to herald the king's entrance, the flaming linstock fired the thatch roof in the summer of 1613, and "The great Globe itself" dissolved into ashes, perhaps taking with it unpublished plays from Shakespeare's foul papers (playing manuscripts).


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