Elizabethan Public Theatre: Designated for the Performance

Elizabethan Theatre is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, in which actors perform live for an audience on a stage or in another space designated for the performance.  In many ways the stage of the innyard helped to define the structure of the Elizabethan public theatre. Though various scholars have given different details about the structure, with the help of certain contemporary records, we can arrive at the main features. Apart from the picture of the Swan Theatre (1595) drawn by the Dutch traveler Johannes de Witt, another picture was found in the title page of the play Roxana (1630) by William Alabaster. The contemporary documents like the building contracts kept by Philip Henslowe (the first Englishman who made a fortune in theatre business) and the stage direction in the plays give a clear picture of a public theatre. 

Fundamental to the theater experience is the act of seeing and being seen; in fact, the word theater comes from the Greek word theatron, meaning 'seeing place.' Throughout the history of world cultures, actors have used a variety of locations for theater, including amphitheaters, churches, marketplaces, garages, street corners, warehouses, and formal buildings. It is not the building that makes theater but rather the use of space for actors to imitate human experience before audiences. The outside shape was octagonal and the inside was either octagonal or circular. In Henry V Shakespeare describe his theatre as ‘This wooden O’. It was, borrowed from the shape of the bare-baiting ring. This round shape was more convenient for seating arrangement than the quadrangular inn yard. The inside of the theatre was divided in to two parts’- the stage and the auditorium. The stage was a large platform on trestles and oblong in shape. It jutted almost into the middle of the circular yard.

The rest of the yard which formed the auditorium was called the ‘pit’. As it has no seats, the spectators (groundlings) stood and surrounded the platform three sides. The pit was surrounded by three tiers of galleries. The uppermost gallery had a thatched roof. Unlike the pit, the galleries were provided with benches. The pit was open to the sky, but the stage was covered by a canopy which rested on two posts rising vertically from the floor of the stage. There was no front curtain to separate the stage from the audience. At the back, there were two or three doors. The side ones were used for the entry or exit of actors and they led to the retiring room or the dressing room. The large middle door was curtained off and, behind the curtain of arras of traverse, there was an inner stage.
Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert   
2. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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