Appunti in lingua inglese sui teatri ai tempi della regina Elisabetta

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Data:08.06.2005
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Testo

the world of the Elizabethan theatre
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the time period in which William Shakespeare was active in the theatre, attending a play during the afternoon was a favorite leisure activity for many members of London society in much the same way as going to movies and plays is a popular form of entertainment today. A closer examination of the theatre of Shakespeare’s time, however, will reveal many differences between the Elizabethan theatre and the movies and plays of today. This article will give you an overview of the elements of the Elizabethan theatre and help place the dramatic works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in a better context.

By the late 1500s, plays were being performed in two types of theatre buildings: the private theatre and the public theatre. The private theatres were small, roofed buildings in which wealthier audiences gathered to view plays. This page, however, will discuss the public theatres for which Shakespeare wrote his plays. In 1576, the first public theatre was built in London by James Burbage, and by the time that Shakespeare was writing his plays, there were more playhouses in London than in any other European city. Some well-known examples are the Rose (1587), the Swan (1595), the Globe (1599), and the Fortune (1600). Shakespeare and his acting company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men, performed in the Globe theatre.
The public theatre was usually either a round, square, or octagonal wooden structure that, in Shakespeare’s words, a “wooden O.” Its basic structure was an unroofed courtyard surrounded by three levels of roofed galleries containing seating. The platform stage projected into the courtyard so that it was surrounded by the courtyard and galleries on three sides. The building was able to accommodate roughly 3,000 people. Because this open-air structure depended on natural lighting, all plays took place in the afternoon at three o’clock in the summer and at two o’clock in the summer. When a play was to be held, a flag was raised on the top of the playhouse as a signal to Londoners of the event. A trumpeter would also announce the impending play in song.
Seating in the Elizabethan theatre was determined by wealth and social status. Each person paid a penny for admission; however, for an additional fee, one could sit in one of the galleries, protected from the elements. The wealthier patrons of the theatre were the most likely to be able to pay this fee and usually filled those seats. The poorer members of the audience, or “groundlings,” were left to stand in the courtyard surrounding the stage. Occasionally, honored guests of the theatre were given seats of honor on the edge of the stage as well.

If you were to travel back in time and attend a play in Elizabethan theatre, you would immediately notice many aspects of the theatre’s interior that would seem strange to you. One of the first differences you might have noticed upon entering the theatre was the structure of the stage, a large platform surrounded by the audience on three sides. This close proximity of the audience to the stage created a more interactive relationship between the actors and the audience. Unlike most of today’s audiences, the people attending Elizabethan theatre were involved in the play, shouting suggestions, encouragement, or curses to the actors. When the audience did not like a character, they even threw rotten fruit at the actors to demonstrate their displeasure!
Another aspect of the Elizabethan theatre that might have seemed strange to you was the tiring-house, an area behind the stage that corresponds to the backstage area of a theatre today. The tiring-house was used as dressing rooms by the actors. Entrances and exits were also made of the doors leading to the tiring-house. Actors could also enter the action from the curtained discovery space at the rear of the stage. By opening the curtains, the actors could reveal characters who were eavesdropping on the conversations of the characters on stage.
The Elizabethan stage also included a small roof projecting over a portion of the back part of the main stage which was topped by a hut. This structure was known as the heavens and contained the machinery needed to produce sound effects or to lower “angels” and “gods” down to the stage. Gods, angels, and other characters could also appear in the gallery that hung over the back of the main stage. This gallery was often used as a castle wall or a balcony. Of course, “ghosts” and “demons” must also be provided for, and so the stage was equipped with a trapdoor leading to a “Hell” beneath the stage. The trapdoor was also used as a grave in theatrical funerals.

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