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A Brief Overview of… Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About…

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1 A Brief Overview of… Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About…

2 When Did He Live? born in 1564 died in 1616
we don’t know exactly what day he was born, only his date of baptism, so it is conventional to consider April 23 (St. George’s day) his birthday born in Stratford, a middle-sized village about a day’s journey away from Oxford and another day’s journey to London (in a car, you could drive it in about two hours)

3 Marriage and Children Married Anne Hathaway in 1582 (it seems that he was 18, and she was 27) Their first child, Susanna, was baptized six months later In 1585, their only other children, twins named Hamnet and Judith were baptized Only Sussanna survived to adulthood In his will, Shakespeare famously left Anne the “second-best bed,” which has led to much speculation about their relationship

4 Education We assume he was educated at the grammar school in Stratford
Boys would attend from the age of about 7 to about 14 (before that, they would learn their letters; after that, they could go on to university) The curriculum focused on Latin and then some Greek Lots of translation Emphasis on rhetoric Ovid, Plautus, Plutarch’s lives – all grammar school texts that are later major sources for the plays Would also know the Bible, trades (lots about horses, agriculture), local country and city life, and the court

5 What Do We Know About Him?
Authorship debates No fewer documents than a lot of early modern people who we now consider important or interesting – and more that most people That said, I would hesitate to make too many overly definitive claims about what he was like as a person on the basis of the plays or biographical evidence

6 Why Is He Important? His Historical Moment Over time
Rise of English as an important language Rise of England as a nation The moment when vernacular literature in English comes into its own Over time Shakespeare seen as England’s first great author (or one of them) not too very long after his death British empire made Shakespeare something to export as culture Has continued to be seen as “timeless,” of enduring value Has so permeated the culture that he is part of the way we think about ideas like timeless ness and enduring value

7 Plays William Shakespeare’s plays have the reputation of being among the greatest in the English language and in Western literature. There are 38 plays They are divided into the genres of tragedy, history, and comedy. They have been translated into every major living language, in addition to being continually performed all around the world.

8 Plays (cont.) Among the most famous and critically acclaimed of Shakespeare's plays are: Romeo and Juliet King Lear Macbeth A Midsummer Night's Dream Much Ado About Nothing Henry V The Taming of the Shrew Hamlet Julius Caesar, Othello The Tempest Twelfth Night The Merchant of Venice Richard III

9 Play Structure Five acts
Act One – mostly exposition, introduction of characters Act Two – rising action, complication, introduction of problem Act Three – complication – everything will flow from what happens here Act Four – moving towards resolution Act Five – everything wraps up – often quite quickly

10 Play Structure (cont.) Mix verse and prose High and low characters
Usually a main plot and a subplot

11 Comedy v. Tragedy Comedy Two or more couples A fool
Tends towards a sexual nature Typically end in happiness with all of the couples getting married Tragedy A tragic hero character or couple A villain Tends towards pervading insanity Typically ends with the death

12 Theatre in England (Shakespeare’s Time)

13 Sixteenth and seventeenth-century English people knew about permanent spaces designed for performance. Englishmen who traveled to the continent would have seen amphitheatres devoted to the performance of classical plays as ruins scattered across the Roman empire.

14 As well, England had its own tradition of live performances of plays.
Medieval drama might be performed inside of a church or other religious institutional building.

15 Typical spaces where these groups performed were the great halls of aristocratic households.
This is an image of the interior of a great hall. Note the size. Unfortunately, it does not show the end of the hall where performances would most likely have taken place -- the end with two entrance doors.

16 They also performed in inn yards.
This is an inn yard image that shows the entrance.

17 Another inn yard -- this one in Cordova, Spain, but a building of the right historical period.

18 When the first permanent structures devoted to theatre were built in England, they were modeled on inn yards.

19 The Construction Dates of Key Theatres
The Theatre: 1576 The Curtain: 1577 The Rose: 1587 The Swan: 1595 The Globe: 1599 The Fortune: 1600 The Red Bull: 1604

20 Public theatres were built outside of the walls of the city of London
Public theatres were built outside of the walls of the city of London. Thus, players and their audiences were not subject to oversight by city authorities.

21 This means they were located in the same area as brothels and bull-baiting and bear-baiting pits.

22 A multi-sided polygon of three levels with its center open to the sky.
Also, please note the large dimensions of these theatres: up to 100 feet in diameter with stages approximately 40 feet wide and 25 feet deep.

23 There are also a number of key characteristics of the stage and thus of performances.
This drawing of the Swann theatre by a continental tourist to London is our best and almost our only evidence from the period of what the inside of a playhouse looked like.

24 An empty stage Natural lighting Two entrances Hand props

25 Discovery space “Above” Trap door The heavens Columns

26 Elaborate costumes

27 The theatre companies Like traveling companies of the mid-sixteenth century, these troupes of players doubled parts and relied upon boy actors to play women’s roles. These companies did increase in size, often including eight to ten men, two or three boys, and additional actors brought in to play roles as needed (up to fifteen to seventeen people total). These companies also went on the road, performing in inn yards and great houses.

28 Theatre companies and patronage…
Because of a 1572 legal statute, players without patrons were classified as vagabonds and masterless men and thus subject to severe penalties. The better theatre companies seem to have been able to get aristocrats to serve as their patrons, naming the members of the company as servants. Thus, theatre companies in this period are always referred to as so-and-so’s men.

29 Players would be expected to have a number of skills.

30 Playing music

31 Swordfighting

32 As well, they would have to possess staggering memorization abilities.
While the theatres were open, from April to October, a company might perform a new play every week or two and might be called upon to work up an old play with very little notice. It seems likely that most players would have had about nine plays in their heads at any given time. Since performance versions of plays were approximately 2500 lines, this is a tremendous amount of text to have memorized.

33 Please note… There is currently some scholarly controversy about whether the plays by Shakespeare we read, all of which derive from early modern printed texts, reflect what was actually performed on stage (in other words, whether the plays as we read them are performance scripts). New research seems to indicate the plays we study might have been uncut versions intended for reading and that in performance plays were regularly cut to about 2500 lines, or two hours playing time. For more information on this matter, see Lucas Erne’s Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge UP, 2003).

34 Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s clown
Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s leading man Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s clown

35 So, who went to these theatres?

36 A lot of people… A theatre like the Globe had the capacity to hold 1,500 to 2,000 audience members -- at a time when the population of the city of London was approximately 100,000.

37 Different kinds of people…
People paid one penny to enter, then more to sit under cover, more to sit higher, and still more to have a cushion. This sliding pay scale has led some people to refer to the people who stood in front of the stage as “groundlings” and to speak of them as uneducated masses of questionable taste.

38 Anyone who could afford a penny…
A penny could buy you Two tankards of beer A boat ride across the Thames River 1/6 of a play book in quarto

39 What people earned An apprentice made six pennies per week, plus room and board. A household servant made two to five pounds per year, plus room and board. To become a knight, you had to have an income of at least thirty pounds per year. The average earl made 4000 pounds per year from his land.

40 We know the following types of people definitely went…
Inns of Court men Apprentices Tourists For more information, see Andrew Gurr’s Shakespearean Stage. Prostitutes

41 The story of the Globe, or, how Shakespeare made his fortune.
The Theatre was built in Shoreditch, north of London, in 1576 by James Burbage. The Burbage family, as owners of the the Theatre, were doing very well financially. The Theatre was the London performance home for the Lord Chamberlain’s men, the theatre company with which Shakespeare was associated as primary playwright and company actor.

42 Around 1599… The Burbages bought a property in the city of London they hoped to use for year round performances, an old monastery known as the Blackfriars. But they were denied permission to perform in the city. Around the same time, their twenty year lease on the land on which the Theatre sat ran out. All of these factors left the Burbage family in some financial trouble.

43 And so… The Burbages offered shares in the Theatre to members of the company. Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, James’s sons, each took two shares for a total 50% interest. Four other shareholders -- including William Shakespeare -- each held 12.5% interests.

44 Using this new revenue, the Burbages moved the timbers of the Theatre from the north side of the Thames to the south side and rebuilt the Theatre into the Globe.

45 Within a few years, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (after 1603, the King’s Men) had permission to perform in the Blackfriars. As a shareholder in a company with a year round playing space in London, Shakespeare became quite a wealthy man.

46 So what was the Blackfriars?
It was called the Blackfriars because it had been a monastery founded in 1275 by a group of Dominican monks (Dominicans wear black robes). After King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, the property was divided up. Some of it was sold off, some leased by the crown. Nevertheless, the old usually monasteries continued to be known by monastery-like names.

47 Why wasn’t it possible for the Lord Chamberlain’s men to get permission to perform there?
It seems that city officials didn’t want plays to be performed in the city limits for a number of reasons: Crowds and the risk of rioting Crowds and the risk of disease (esp. plague) The risk of distracting people (esp. apprentices) from their work Issues of morality (playing on Sundays, worries about prostitutes at theatres, etc.)

48 So why did the Burbages think they would be given permission to perform in the Blackfriars?
They actually had two good reasons…

49 First… In 1576, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, some of the buildings were leased to Richard Farrant. Farrant was Master of the royal chapel’s boys’ choir, a group that performed plays while calling themselves the Children of the Chapel Royal. Officially, the buildings were were used for rehearsals and “private” performances that made it possible for the “Chapel Children” to then put on great performances at court. In reality, they charged admission and seem to have been quite a popular attraction. They were finally shut down in 1584 by city officials who claimed the performances created too much traffic. In other words, there had already been an active and successful theatre at the Blackfriars.

50 Second… While the Blackfriars was within the city limits of London, within the city’s walls, it was technically considered part of the “liberties,” a section of the city under the direct control of crown or other outside authority. (Historically, all monasteries and abbeys were liberties, albeit controlled by the church, not the crown.) Thus, it would have been technically legal to perform there with permission from the court even if city officials objected.

51 A map of London showing the liberties

52 What happened next, exactly?
When the Burbages were denied permission to perform in the Blackfriars, they leased the property to children’s companies and for other private use. They finally got permission to perform there starting in fall 1608. The Blackfriars remained a thriving venue for theatrical performance until the theatres were shut down in 1642.

53 So, what renovations were required to make the space into a theatre?
The space originally was split into a number of small rooms. Burbage had all of these rooms combined into one large room. He also built a stage and put in seating.

54 How did the indoor theatre differ from a theatre like the Globe?
Indoors Illuminated with candles and torches More expensive to attend Possibly a more exclusive audience

55 How much more expensive?
Basic admission started at six pennies, six times the amount of basic admission to the public theatres. One could pay more for better seating -- and pay the most to sit on a stool on the stage.

56 What did these theatres look like?
Like a cross between a great hall and what we think of as a theatre….


58 Key features of a private, indoor theatre like the Blackfriars…
Light level is the same for the audience and the stage. No sets or curtain. Still, elaborate costumes and hand props. Probably longer plays with slightly bigger groups of players. Probably more music. More elaborate stage effects.

59 Because of the Blackfriars…
The King’s Men had a venue in which to perform in the winter. They could perform plays in or around London year round. This is partly what made Shakespeare, as a shareholder in the company, such a rich man.

60 How rich was he? He purchased… A coat of arms for his father.
A great deal of land and a very nice house in Stratford-upon-Avon.

61 That would be the ripe old age of forty-seven.
He was able to retire from the stage to live the life of a country gentleman by about 1611. That would be the ripe old age of forty-seven. By that time, he had written all or part of at least forty plays, a sonnet cycle, and other poems

62 Shakespeare certainly would not have become wealthy as an actor or a playwright.
Poets were paid approximately five to seven pounds for writing a new play, less for updating an old play. A professional actor made about one shilling per day for every day the theatre was open during the playing season.

63 Imagine the stage of the Globe:


65 Now, imagine the stage of the Blackfriars…


67 Questions???

68 For more information… Visit the websites for
The Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Virginia (available through the website for Shenandoah Shakespeare’s American Shakespeare Center The new Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London The Folger Shakespeare Library Look at these books: John Cox and David Scott Kastan, eds. A New History of Early English Drama (Columbia University Press, 1997) Andrew Gurr, Shakespearean Stage, 3rd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1992, rpt. 1994) and Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, 3rd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

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