Shakespeare’s Stage by Shmoop


Shakespeare’s stage, a la Shmoop.
We all know what a modern theater looks like. There’s the stage, the curtains, the orchestra
pit, the lights… …the chandelier hanging above the audience,
just waiting for the Phantom of the Opera to do something sinister. In Shakespeare’s time, however, it was very
different. The first theaters didn’t even have walls.
Instead, plays were performed in processions… or in circular, grassy areas. The actors didn’t much care for this. Not only was there no separation between them
and the audience… …but rain delays were a common problem,
and being on a level with so much body odor had caused many a production not to make it
past opening night. So, after years of careful research and analysis,
actors ditched the grassy fields of the past for the marketplace.
The early marketplace had one great advantage over the original outdoor theater: it had
a floor. Naturally, this was considered a technological
marvel, and the actors charged their audiences accordingly. Plays were performed on scaffolds raised in
the marketplace, where people could gather around to watch the action, and come and go
as they pleased. Obviously, this venue was quite noisy, especially
as people bought and sold goods all around the stage. Actors had to shout to be heard above the
babble, but at least no one could tell when someone flubbed a line.
While performing in the marketplace meant that the actors no longer suffered so much
from hay fever, they did face a couple of other problems. Sometimes, people would rush the stage, or
watch a show without paying. We’ve all seen mimes and contortionists and
really bad Bob Marley impersonators performing on street corners. We might stop to watch for a few minutes,
and then move along without putting our spare change in the bucket. It was roughly the same thing in Shakespeare’s
day. So, how do you stop people from mooching?
You build a theater, where every person who wants to watch the show has to put money in
a box as he or she is entering the building. That’s Nobel Prize-worthy thinking right there. Shakespeare spent most of his career working
at a theater called the Globe. Here, there were three levels of seating,
and a pit where people could stand. Audience members paid according to whether
they sat or stood to watch the performance. Now, you might think the seats in the very,
very back of the Globe theater would be the cheapest, given their distance from the stage. This wasn’t the case, however: the cheapest
seats, which only cost a penny, were in the pit where people stood to watch the show.
Just like today’s theaters, where you can go to watch a ballet or a musical or a symphony
performance, open-air theaters like the Globe offered all sorts of entertainment. One of the best-selling gigs of Shakespeare’s
time was called bear baiting. No, it didn’t involve putting bears on hooks and then using
them to fish for mackerel. In bear baiting, a bear would be chained to
a pike and people would bet on how many dogs it would take to kill the bear. Ye Olde PETA frequently showed up to protest. So what do you think? Would you be more likely
to attend the theater if there was some good old-fashioned animal violence to keep things
interesting? Or do you prefer our modern theaters… where
at least you can contribute to early onset diabetes with a rich offering at the concession
stand?

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