Studies in the Elizabethan Theatre

Studies in the Elizabethan Theatre

Studies in the Elizabethan Theatre

Studies in the Elizabethan Theatre

Excerpt

Nowadays Shakespeare is much in the news: his plays are currently to be presented by a professional company in the schools of New York; Shakespeare Festivals multiply apace; and the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre has its first nation-wide tour in progress. In the paperback book market editions of the plays and books about them find a willing market. Finally, television has brought several of the plays to their largest audience in history.

In a purely dramatic sense current interest in the physical aspects of theatre should have some connection with modern Shakespearean production. Off-Broadway has theatres in the round, a sandwich theatre with the audience on either side of the stage, and many other departures from the standard proscenium arch stage. Critics such as Brooks Atkinson and several playwrights have expressed their dissatisfaction with the proscenium stage and their desire to escape from the familiar three-sided room thus presented. At Stratford, Ontario, the plays are seen in a fascinating kind of amphitheatre with the spectators seated in rising tiers so that they almost surround and look down on the "tongue" stage.

Students of theatre history are well aware that the modern proscenium stage is a direct descendant of the Restoration stage. Very simply, the great public theatres of Elizabethan and Stuart times had been closed in 1642 and being of no use had been demolished. The Court returning from exile in France brought with it the French theatre based on the "tennis court" theatres. Basically this was a narrow rectangular hall with a picture frame which could be closed by a curtain. Thus the Medieval and Renaissance tradition of staging disappeared and a new tradition was established which resulted in the realistic three-sided room so carefully described in every detail by Ibsen. Today the desire is to escape from such rigid conventions, but if we are to go back to an earlier form of stage or theatre we must begin with some factual knowledge of what that . . .

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