Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642

Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642

Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642

Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642


R. B. Graves examines the lighting of early modern English drama from both historical and aesthetic perspectives. He traces the contrasting traditions of sunlit amphitheaters and candlelit hall playhouses, describes the different lighting techniques, and estimates the effect of these techniques both indoors and outdoors.

Supporting recent scholarship, Graves demonstrates that the conventions of indoor and outdoor illumination are remarkably similar. In addition to providing new evidence, Graves makes use of experiments conducted at the "new" Globe in Southwark, London, and in various Tudor halls.

Graves discusses the importance of stage lighting in determining the dramatic effect, even in cases where the manipulation of light was not under the direct control of the theater artists. He devotes a chapter to the early modern lighting equipment available to English Renaissance actors and surveys theatrical lighting before the construction of permanent playhouses in London. Elizabethan stage lighting, he argues, drew on both classical and medieval precedents.

Analyzing the effect of the weather on theater lighting, Graves traces the history of performance times in the open-air Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline theaters. He reconstructs the lighting of the amphitheaters by considering the size and shape of the playhouses, the orientation of the stages within the open-air yards, and the presence of roofs shading the stage.

Examining the natural lighting of indoor private playhouses, Graves takes note of performance times and the size and placement of windows to evaluate the amount of daylight available in various hall playhouses. He contrasts the natural light with the artificiallight produced for the court masques. Few of the special effects common in court performances, however, were used in the production of plays.

Considering the placement and manipulation of lighting instruments, Graves reconstr


Offered here is a survey of English theatrical lighting from the rise of professional acting troupes in London to the close of the playhouses by act of Parliament in 1642. This period—which, for convenience, I refer to as Shakespearean—saw plays performed in a variety of venues, each with its own kind of illumination, and it is one of my purposes to compare and contrast the effect of stage lighting in various playhouses and on different plays and audiences. In doing so, I have been under the obligation of presenting evidence from a number of primary sources, secondary works in theatrical history, and studies in such far-flung fields as psychophysics, architectural lighting, and the history of weather. I have tried to consolidate this evidence as much as possible, choosing the most representative examples, while bearing in mind that descriptions of one playhouse do not necessarily apply to others and that an effect achieved in one play may not have been achieved in others.

Wherever possible, I quote in the original spelling because the etymology of certain technical terms such as "lanthorne" is obscured by modernization. Similarly, pounds, shillings, and pence have been cited in their old forms where one pound equals twenty shillings and one shilling equals twelve pence. On the other hand, play titles, which were recorded in various forms, have been regularized in accordance with standard reference works, and old-style dates have been adjusted to conform with the modern practice of beginning the year on 1 January. Occasionally, I have found it useful to include diagrams to illustrate the directionality of light in the halls and amphitheaters, but these schematic drawings should in no sense be considered competent reconstructions of the playhouses or even adequate depictions of other important qualities of the illumination.

I am under many obligations for help received. Alan Dessen and the late S. Schoenbaum gave early counsel, while Michael Shapiro offered advice at a later stage when it was sorely needed. Andrew Gurr generously facilitated my research at the new Globe in Southwark, as did Michael Holden, Tiffany . . .

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