D. The Performances

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D. The Performances

The performances.

  • Plays ran for one day up until fifteen days depending on the popularity of the play.

  • The same play would never be played for two days in a row, and rarely the same play twice in one week.

  • The work load must have been tremendous.

  • sometimes plays only went on for a day then the actors had to learn all the clues and lines for the next play in one day

The costumes

Costumes were very expensive, so actors normally wore contemporary clothing unless they were the main character.

Physicality of the style

Shakespears plays had to be rich and bold to keep the audience’s attention. The actor’s movements and gestures also had to spell out the intricate details of the play that could not exist in props and scenery. In addition to creating the illusions of the props and scenes the exchange also had to paint the portrait of the time of day. This due to the fact that the performances were carried out in the open of the afternoon. The intimate positioning of the stage amongst the audience also largely affected the acting style. The players were forced to interact with the spectators in a much more familiar fashion than theatre of today’s era. Indeed if an actor was not liked by the audience he took the chance of getting pelted with rotten fruit and cursed at. Some other aspects of Elizabethan Theatre included the frequent spectacle of sword fighting, ballroom dancing, and walks through the courtyard.

Some idea of the sort of hand gestures that an Elizabethan actor may have used may have been preserved in a peculiar book called “Chorological” or” the Naturall Language of the Hand” This was supposed to explain hand gestures used to show emotions or give emphasis in normal conversation rather than in stage performance, but if gestures of this kind were used offstage then they were almost certainly used on it as well. Some of the gestures seem very odd and extravagant to modern eyes, but may well have seemed perfectly natural to an Elizabethan. The modern Globe Directors have found that, as a result, they need to keep their actors in constant motion. They also need to have actors facing in as many different directions as possible during a scene. Before performing on the stage it had been assumed that the actors would need to use big voices and broad gestures, but they found that clarity of speech and movement was more important than volume or size, and much more subtle acting was possible.

  • Shakespearian style today is known as very dramatic

  • Distinguished by emphasized and exaggerated displays of emotion, and stereotypical characters.

  • The characters also have only one personality, they do not take on any other form.

  • Very melodramatic

  • The position of the stage also largely affected the acting style.


  • Gesture/Action suited to text

  • Fluidity

  • Stance/Dance positions

  • Movement that reflects the state of character, situation


  • Clear use of projection, clarity, emphasis to convey meaning and appeal to tiers of audience

  • Use of iambic pentameter / rhyme

  • Voice to suit role eg: woman disguised as male

  • Use of accent to show status in society



  • Disguise

  • Letter intrigue/plot

  • Special effects

  • Verbal intentions

  • Soliloquy

  • Slapstick or farce

  • Dramatic irony

  • Asides and gossip

  • Dialogue used to introduce new character

  • Eavesdropping and spying

  • Misunderstood situation that leads to…

  • Jigs and masque

  • Arrivals and departures

  • Problems and crises

  • Mistaken identity

  • Play within a play

  • Unknown identity

  • Courtly love / pastoral love

  • Invisibility

Use multiple modes of performance.

  • Sword fighting, ballroom dancing and walks through the courtyard.

  • -dance, music, clowning, pageantry another aspect of Elizabethan performance that we know a little about was the use of clowns or fools. Shakespeare complains in Hamlet about the fact that the fool often spoke a great deal that was not included in his script, and in the early Elizabethan period especially it seems to have been normal for the fool to include a great deal of improvised repartee and jokes in his performance, especially responding to hecklers in the audience. At the end of the play the Elizabethan actors often danced, and sometimes the fool and other comic actors would perform a jig - which could be anything from a simple ballad to a quite complicated musical play, normally a farce involving adultery and other bawdy topics. Some time was apparently put aside for the fool to respond to challenges from the audience - with spectators inventing rhymes and challenging the fool to complete them, asking riddles and questions and demanding witty answers, or simply arguing and criticising the fool so that he could respond.

Acting companies

Due to the growth of the alarmingly popular Elizabethan Theatre, acting troupes began to form. Before the first theatre was built (which was in 1576), troupes travelled together from town to town performing, which was a difficult task during the era – there were frequent outbursts of the bubonic plague, all strangers entering a town were viewed with suspicion and actors had the reputation of being rogues (a dishonest, “knavish” person, a scoundrel) and vagabonds (a wandering, carefree, worthless person). Anybody who wanted to travel around England had to obtain a license from the bailiff in a guild hall. These licenses were granted to the aristocracy for the maintenance of players (actors) who may be, at any time, required to show their credentials – this is how the Elizabethan acting troupes were formed. The major Elizabethan acting troupes being:

  • Traveling companies performed wherever they could find audience

  • Notorious reputation of vagabonds and thefts

  • Two kinds of acting companies – adult companies and boy’s choirs

  • No women were allowed onstage

  • Four major acting companies: Lord Strange’s Men; Chamberlain’s Men; Admiral’s Men; King’s Men

  • Two of the most famous companies in Elizabethan Theatre were called ‘the Admirals Men’ and ‘The Kings Men’, one of the actors Howard and another actor of that company were performing a show in London and stage gun fire went wrong killing a child and a pregnant lady that put both of them in tempory retirement but they returned to performing in the winter from 1588-9 on December 29 and February the 11.

  • The Admiral's Men

  • The Children of Paul's

  • The Children of the Chapel (Queen's Revels)

  • The King's Men

  • King's Revels Children

  • King's Revels Men

  • Lady Elizabeth's Men

  • Leicester's Men

  • The Lord Chamberlain's Men

  • Oxford's Boys

  • Oxford's Men

  • Pembroke's Men

  • Prince Charles's Men

  • Queen Anne's Men

  • Queen Elizabeth's Men

  • Queen Henrietta's Men

  • Sussex's Men

  • Worcester's Men

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