The Globe Playhouse: Its Design and Equipment

By John Cranford Adams | Go to book overview

Appendix A
THE ORIGINAL STAGING OF KING LEAR

A SCENE-BY-SCENE analysis of the original staging of King Lear, first produced at the Globe in 1605-06, will illustrate Shakespeare's theatrical style in the great period. The analysis reveals his employment of the multiple stage (1) to establish twelve different localities in the course of the play's twenty-six scenes, (2) to reduce expository dialogue to a minimum, (3) to bring parallel or contrasting episodes into sharp focus, and (4) to help spectators follow every turn in a complex plot. Shakespeare had previously used the upper stage to set apart the unfolding of a secondary theme, but nowhere more brilliantly than in King Lear.


Scene 1. Staging: the rear stage (or "Study") and the outer stage (or "Platform"). Length: 321 lines.

The play begins when the rear stage curtains open upon a setting of great splendor prepared in advance. "Enter Kent, Gloucester, and Edmond."1 No scenic properties are mentioned in the text, but the circumstances clearly indicate a hall of state. The Globe Company's standard throne room set included a throne, a dais with canopy, carpets on the steps and floor, and suitable tapestries suspended on three walls.

In combined-stage scenes such as this the character of the whole is established by the study setting which forms a three-dimensional background. The platform serves as a large forward extension of the study, providing space for a full company of actors and for freedom of movement. Normally the first actors to appear enter in the rear stage. Actors entering later in the scene may use the doors of either stage unless special conditions arising from theatrical illusion obtain. At line 34:

Sound a Sennet, Enter one bearing a Coronet, then Lear, then the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, next Gonorill, Regan, Cordelia, with followers.2

The procession enters through one of the two large platform doors.

____________________
1
The Folio is followed except as the notes indicate a Quarto reading.
2
2Q1, Q2.

-385-

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