Two boards and a passion! Perhaps these words sum up all that was essential to the Shakespearean theater. Heightening of passion coincided with the "climax," and as for the Elizabethan stage, it was, as G. F. Reynolds remarked, a platform "upon which the story of the play was acted."1 And so it was, a flat expanse of boards, somewhat exposed to the weather, roughly eleven hundred square feet.
The story that was acted may be best described as romantic, not because it dealt with romance, although it often did, but because it was centrifugal in impulse, ever threatening to veer from its path. Whatever direct progression narrative possessed in the medieval drama, whether moving from Adam's sin to Christ's judgment or from Everyman's ignorance to his salvation, such progression no longer existed in the Elizabethan age. Instead, the unfolding of the drama took place in a world half of man, and therefore unpredictable, half of God, and therefore moral, and was composed half of history, half of legend; half remote fantasy, half immediate reality. Such a world was wide indeed, and the poet-playwright, its creator, was shackled by neither time nor place. What he demanded of a stage was space for the unimpeded flow of scene after scene, for the instantaneous creation of any place in this world or the next. Even when a ghost in mufti made his way out the stage door in broad daylight, the poet insisted he vanished -- yes, even into thin air.
Between the poet's insistence and the stage's realization lies the entire secret of Elizabethan staging. About the stage's realization there is some evidence and little knowledge. Stage direc