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THE RENAISSANCE. “Rebirth” In England and Italy. Medieval Theatre’s influence in England. Complex dramatic conventions, staging practices and audience attitudes Secular ( nonchurch ) history is addressed in a providential (advantageous) design similar to the cycles

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the renaissance



In England and Italy

medieval theatre s influence in england
Medieval Theatre’s influencein England
  • Complex dramatic conventions, staging practices and audience attitudes
  • Secular (nonchurch) history is addressed in a providential (advantageous) design similar to the cycles
  • Characters treated in symbolic terms
  • Used both acting and stage to create an immediacy between the play and the audience
the church and politics
The Church and Politics
  • *The Anglican Protestant church will be the state religion in London and any sign of Catholicism was sedition (treason). Elizabeth had replaced her Catholic sister “Bloody Mary”.
  • *England became a world power
  • *Political, social and theatrical fashion (how theatre was produced) would reshape the theatre.
church and politics cont
Church and politics cont.
  • *The theatre will become, for the first time, a profit making institution.
  • FYI

Elizabeth’s reign: 1558-1603

James I: 1603-1625

Charles I: 1625-1649 (beheaded, Puritans

come to power; Olivier Comwell

head of the government)

general design of theatre building
General Design of Theatre Building

1. based on inn yards and arenas used for bear baiting

2. outdoor, no roof over main courtyard where spectators stood. These standing spectators were called “groundlings.”

3. thrust stage

4. 8-12 sided structure of 3 stories

theatre building cont
Theatre building cont.
  • Stage partly roofed with tiring house at the back, curtains and two doors for entrances.
  • Orchestra gallery at top of tiring house
  • Trap door(s) in stage for special effects

(i.e. ghosts)

shakespeare and his time
Shakespeare and His Time

*public and private theatres were the primary playing spaces

Private: mostly in the courts of royalty where the players were summoned to perform.

Public: the outdoor theatres, where spectators of all levels of society attended

*audience was very vocal during the performance (often rude and crude: answering the players back and throwing food if the play or players were bad

what were the plays like
What were the plays like?
  • Most plays, especially Shakespeare’s, were borrowed from many sources. They were reworked to become the author’s own.
  • Situations/characters clearly established in the opening scenes. We usually meet many characters in these plays.
  • The action developed logically out of exposition; (what we learn at the beginning of the play, very episodic (broken up, lots of scenes)
play characteristics cont
Play characteristics, cont.

4. Lots of plots (actions). They seemed to proceed independently but were really interwoven and came together before the climax. Therefore, all resolutions lead to one!

5. Took place over a long period of time.

6. Characters were well-rounded. We laughed with them/at them and cried for them. They were so complex that they appeared to be “real living individuals”.

whew there s more
Whew, there’s more:

7. What was popular within the plays?

- on stage violence (Seneca influence)

- ghosts/magic (Seneca influence)

- music

- some folk dance of the period

The audience knew the story lines before going in but not how the story was to be told.

fun facts
Fun Facts
  • 1. During his time Shakespeare was very popular but:
  • 2. Not as popular as other playwrights but:
  • 3. In the 19th century (what dates are those?)

he was at his height of popularity. His

plays were done in their actual length:

4 HOURS!!!

acting styles
Acting Styles
  • Verse was very important
  • Less than realistic acting style as we know it today.
  • no actresses; men and boys played all the parts.
  • 3-5 plays were committed to memory
style cont
Style cont.
  • The bill (or play being presented) changed regularly at the theatres. Acting companies were familiar with all plays at the same time. (see #4)
  • Sides (or just their parts), not full scripts were given to the actors.
  • Playwrights were directors of sorts. They were actors in the company, shareholders and made sure the actors stayed true to the scripts.
how the acting companies were formed
How the acting companies were formed
  • This is the first time in history there are acting companies formed for actors, writers and producers to make money.
  • Shareholders – elite, might be actors but might not be. They were compensated for membership in the company.
  • Hirelings – these were actors contracted ofr a short period of time.
acting companies
Acting Companies

The Lord Chamberlain oversaw all the theatrical offerings:

Each company had to have a license to perform.

It is important to remember that companies built their theatres on the other side of the river Thames, to try to avoid being shut down by the government.

Think: why might they be shut down??

companies cont
Companies cont.
  • Plays were performed in repertory, rotating sometimes daily.
  • Playwrights were influenced by Greek and Roman classics based on the education the young men were receiving at universities.

Fun Fact: HAMLET is based on an old, old story

dating back to Ancient Greece.

  • Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come out of the Renaissance.
  • Audiences of the time recognized the play as a revengetragedy (every character getting even with those that did them an injustice).
  • The role of Hamlet is known as the richest acting role in an actor’s repertoire (resume), even to this day.
now let s talk about private theatres in england
Now let’s talk about Private Theatres in England!

*We have been discussing the Public Theatres in England up to this point.

Private Theatres

Court Masques were popular entertainments performed at court by professional companies.

Most popular under James I and Charles I

masques cont
Masques cont.:
  • Were written in verse, about mythological subjects. Very often parallels were drawn between the honored person (often the king/queen or the company’s patron) and those subjects in the play.
  • They praised the monarch and their rule which was believed to be by divine right
  • Audience was invited to attend, unlike public theatre.
masques cont1
Masques cont.:
  • These style plays introduced Italian staging that was being done in the “covered” theatres of Rome. This would mean proscenium arch theatre.
  • Large sums of money were spent.
  • Music/dance played a major role in the masques and would set the stage for opera and ballet.
wait there s more
Wait there’s more:
  • Design became important for the first time and sets and costumes were used.
  • Designer of note: Inigo Jones

and what did he learn in Italy where he studied?



special effects (flying scenery/actors)

* *perspective painting on angled wings set in grooves in the floor.

a bit of italy
A Bit of Italy:

The Italian Renaissance will change theatre between 1550-1650

2 great areas of change:

*theatre architecture

*scenic design

Yes, they had acting and dramatic criticism but the above two were the most important.

we re still in italy
We’re still in Italy:

Italian theatre:

Not only did they have court masques but:

  • Opera (modeled after Greek tragedy)
  • Ballet

These two would develop over the years in many countries to what we see today.

ALSO …………

the commedia dell arte 1550 1750
The Commedia dell’Arte(1550-1750)

-series of improvisations

-outline of the play to be performed written and tacked up backstage)

-stock characters (Roman influence)

-performed in found space (traveling troops)

-recognizable costumes

These plays are still performed today.

so let s compare
So, let’s compare:


  • Great plays
  • Great playwrights
  • Extensive play structure
  • Great actors
  • Acting companies
  • Open air theatres


  • Courts masques
  • Lots of comedy
  • Intensive play structure
  • Innovative stage design
  • Theatre building design revolutionized: enclosed playing space.

Extensive: broad, widespread or vast (Shakespeare)

Intensive:concentrated (Italian Court Masques)

the end
The End?


Art is always evolving.