The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

By Karl J. Holzknecht | Go to book overview

5
THE ELIZABETHAN PUBLIC PLAYHOUSE

Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

-- Henry V, Prologue to Act I.

UNFOATUNATELY, NO DESCRIPTION OF BURBAGE'S THEatre has been preserved, but this playhouse served as a model for other structures, and of these a few facts have come down to us. This information, however is so meagre that any reconstruction of a typical Elizabethan stage must be largely conjectural. A few drawings, two builder's contracts-those of the Fortune and the Hope -- almost devoid of detail, and a few allusions in contemporary books are all that remain. Yet the general physical features of Shakespeare's theatre are well known, and they are quite unlike those of the theatres of today. When we go to a modern playhouse, we sit before a magnified peep-show surrounded by an ornate proscenium arch which can be closed off by a front curtain. The figures who move and speak across the footlights live out their lives on a different plane from ours, and paint, canvas, and artificial light do what they can to drug our senses into the illusion that all is real. The Elizabethan stage made use of none of these. The first essential to an understanding of the conditions under which Shakespeare's plays were originally produced is that one free his mind of all preconceptions derived from the modern picture-frame stage. Imagine a doughnut-shaped, amphitheatric structure of galleries surrounding an open court into the middle of which juts a platform, and you have the essentials of Shakespeare's playhouse.

-115-

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The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vii
  • 1 - Shakespeare's Life in Fact and Tradition 1
  • Suggested References 32
  • 2 - Shakespeare's England 33
  • Suggested References 61
  • 3 - The Drama Before Shakespeare 63
  • Suggested References 89
  • 4 - Elizabethan Theatrical Companies 92
  • Suggested References 114
  • 5 - The Elizabethan Public Playhouse 115
  • Suggested References 144
  • 6 - The Influence of Theatrical Conditions on Shakespeare 146
  • Suggested References 166
  • 7 - Shakespeare's Audience 167
  • Suggested References 185
  • 8 - Shakespeare's English 186
  • Suggested References 219
  • 9 - The Sources of Shakespeare's Play 220
  • Suggested References 245
  • 10 - Some General Aspects Of Shakespeare's Dramatic Art 247
  • Suggested References 265
  • 11 - Shakespearean Comedy 268
  • Suggested References 291
  • 12 - Shakespeare's History Plays 293
  • Suggested References 320
  • 13 - Shakespearean Tragedy 322
  • Suggested References 341
  • 14 - Shakespeare in Print 343
  • Suggested References 371
  • 15 - Shakespeare's Reputation 374
  • Suggested References 404
  • 16 - Shakespeare on the Stage 407
  • Suggested References 437
  • 17 - Shakespearean Scenes and Characters 439
  • Index 471
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