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Elizabethan Theatre. …Starring William Shakespeare. Introduction. Throughout the middle ages plays were performed by workers in towns and were religious based, often retelling stories from the Bible.

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elizabethan theatre


…Starring William Shakespeare

  • Throughout the middle ages plays were performed by workers in towns and were religious based, often retelling stories from the Bible.
  • However, this ended after Henry VIII’s break from Rome and formation of the Church of England in 1533.
  • At the beginning of Elizabethan times, there were
          • strollers,
          • minstrels,
          • jugglers
          • musicians.
  • Queen Elizabeth I, ruler of England (1533-1603) encouraged the formation of the theatre and acting companies.
the evolution of the elizabethan theatre
The Evolution of the Elizabethan Theatre


  • “Strolling players” – performed in different places, earning money
  • Inn-holders offered shelter to the Strolling Players
  • Temporary stages were erected by the actors here
  • The capacity of inn-yards was 500 people
  • First form of commercial Elizabethan theatre
  • 1576 – 1594 – peak of Elizabethan inn-yard theatres
  • James Burbage built the first Elizabethan theatre; “The Globe”. Construction was similar to the Roman amphitheatres
  • Social status and wealth determined the seating in Elizabethan theatre
  • Like the inn-yard, the rich would watch from the windows & galleries, ordinary people from the inn-yard.
elizabethan playhouses
Elizabethan Playhouses
  • Provided indoor venues for the production of Elizabethan plays
  • The Playhouses were more comfortable and luxurious than other theatres
  • Public performances would cost between 1 to 3 pennies, while private theatre cost was 2 to 26 pennies
  • Suitable for winter and evening performances because they were roofed
  • Food and drink was served
actors and acting companies
Actors and Acting Companies
  • 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
actor audience relationship
Actor-Audience Relationship
  • The ‘thrust stage’ of Elizabethan theatre, meant that the audience was right up in the action of the play. This made for a much more intimate experience of the delivery.
  • Audience were involved in the play – shouting suggestions, encouragements or curses to the actors
  • Dialogue revealed to the audience the time and place of the action, the characters’ identities and even their physical appearances
stage design and sets
In Elizabethan times there was one permanent set.

The back wall could serve as a castle, house, palace, town, etc.

An inner stage was located at the back of the stage which could be closed from view with a curtain or used to represent inner rooms, caves and hiding places.

Above this inner stage was a balcony or upper-stage.

There was a muscians’ gallery and high above the stage was a turret from which a trumpeter announced the start of the play.

Stage Design and Sets

Audience could distinguish the more significant roles by what the actors wore.

Were very important to actors and crucial to a performance because there was little scenery.

More well-established actors owned their own costumes/acting groups owned costumes that were appropriate for many roles

Decorated with braid, embroidery, pearls, jewels, lace, and artificial flowers.

costume and make up
Costume and Make-up
  • Strict laws about dressing during the Elizabethan Age – Sumptuary Law
  • Make-up used by boy actors was lead-based and highly poisonous
  • They used wigs, masks, and different colored suits/spent a lot of money on clothing.
lighting and properties
Lighting and Properties
  • Plays were always acted in daylight; at this time there was no artificial lighting.
  • Props were simple.
  • Chairs would be used to indicate the scene as being indoors, if a lantern was carried, it was night or a character wore riding boots, they’d been traveling. Common props were swords and banners.
the playwrites
The Playwrites
  • Playwrights took inspiration from the Roman theatre and writers like Seneca, who wrote about crime, revenge, witches and ghosts.
  • Elizabethan writers introduced theatre audiences to horror, the supernatural andGORE…
  • Famous playwrites included Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, John Lyly and Thomas Kyd.
  • The most well known playwright of Elizabethan times is William Shakespeare.
william shakespeare 1563 1616
William Shakespeare ( 1563-1616)
  • Born Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564
  • Well to do parents; father was a glover
  • Married Anne Hathaway in 1582
  • Wrote 37 plays &
  • about 154 sonnets
  • Started out as an actor for Lord Chamberlain’s Men (London theater co.)
  • Became Principal playwrite.
  • In 1599 Lord Ch. Co. built Globe Theater where most of Shakespeare’s Play’s were performed
comedies tragedies and histories
Comedies, Tragedies and Histories


  • Titus Andronicus
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Julius Caesar
  • Hamlet
  • Othello
  • King Lear
  • Macbeth
  • Antony and Cleopatra


  • Henry VI, Henry Iv & Henry VIII
  • Richard III and Richard II


  • Taming of the Shrew
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Merchant of Venice
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • As You Like It
  • Twelfth Night
  • Measure for Measure
  • All’s Well that Ends Well
  • The Tempest
ingredients of shakespearean plays
Ingredients of Shakespearean Plays
  • In Medias Res – always began plays in the middle of things.
  • Heightened Language - Blank Verse and Poetry
  • Puns
  • References to Blood
  • Foreshadowing
  • Soliloquy – allowed audiences to know what a character was thinking like a voice over of a soap opera
  • Monologues – long addresses by one character
  • References to GHOSTS and the supernatural
  • Imagery – references to night/light (to do with lighting in the theatre)
  • Asides
  • The last person to speak is always the person of highest birth.
  • Comic Relief
shakespeare today
Elizabethan theatre is still plays a part in our day to day lives, mostly through the influence of Shakespeare.

References to his work are in films, novels, plays, musicals, songs, poetry, artwork, satire…Even today his characters and storylines continue to inspire…

Shakespeare Today
f y i

Shakespeare coined over 1600 words still used today including countless, critical, excellent, lonely, majestic, obscene and its.

Said to have had a vocabulary of some 29,066 words. An average person’s today might use just 2000 words used in everyday conversation. With a vocabulary like that, who needs a dictionary?

Names coined by Shakespeare:

-         Imogen (Cymbaline)

-         Jessica (The Merchant of Venice)

-         Miranda (The Tempest)

-         Olivia (Twelfth Night)

-         Cordelia (King Lear)