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Drama and Acting
William Shakespeare

How were the plays of Shakespeare performed?


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May 06, 2012 3:42PM

Live performances by actors on stages.

Shakespeare's plays were performed outside in the Theatre, Curtain, Rose, Globe, and Newington Butts theatres. Men and boys were the only actors. They did not have big elaborate set pieces or lighting. If it was "night" someone would come out on stage and declare "It's night" or something of the sort. There were some special effects that were used, that actually caused the globe to catch fire on June 29, 1613. There were trapdoors in the floor and fly space up above, and a balcony that was used in many instances. Everyone came to see Shakespeare's plays, even the poor people. They were called the groundlings, and they paid one penny to see Shakespeare's shows. They would stand in the area around the stage. Many of Shakespeare's plays open with jokes of a sexual nature, and this is to attract the attention of the groundlings, who often found those jokes hilarious. Often times, if the plays were not liked, people would bring food and throw it at the performers.

Shakespeare's plays were also performed indoors at the indoor theatre the Blackfriars, and in private performances for royalty and others. Twelfth Night was performed in the Hall of the Inner Temple (law school). For indoor performances candlelight was used to light the stage.

Style of performance has changed constantly in the 400 years since Shakespeare's plays were written, although the scripts gives some clear indications as to how to perform them. I recommend that in order to see how they are performed, you buy a ticket to a Shakespeare play at a theatre near you. Modern performances are probably closer to performances in Shakespeare's day than performances in 1890 were.