Elizabethan playhouse
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Elizabethan Playhouses

What was a Playhouse in Elizabethan England?


Elizabethan Playhouses became much famous during the Elizabethan period. What are Elizabethan Playhouses? If you check the historical records regarding the progression of Elizabethan theatre, you will find that Elizabethan playhouses were built on the basis of Elizabethan theatre. It was a small-sized indoor private hall which was extensively used for the dramatized presentation of the plays in these indoor playhouses.

These Elizabethan playhouses were open to all common persons but these indoor theatres were very expensive and sumptuous. In comparison to ordinary outdoor theatre halls, the tickets for getting admission into these private halls of these playhouses were costly.

Elizabethan Playhouses
Elizabethan Playhouses

A well established and designed playhouse had the capacity to house approximately 500 spectators/viewers. The audience felt happy to watch plays keeping glued to the seats in these glamorous playhouses.

Elizabethan Theatre

To be honest, the troupes of actors and actresses played in these indoor Elizabethan playhouses throughout the year-round. Especially, during the winter season, the audience enjoyed spending their wintry vacation by watching different attractive dramas in these private theatre halls. Those belonged to the elite class liked to visit these private entertainment halls for watching plays.

The inner decoration of these playhouses was really eye-catching with mind-blowing colour contrast. The Salisbury Court playhouse is the burning example of the Elizabethan playhouse. The reputed and noble citizens were fully satisfied to see the dramas and plays in these small but elegant playhouses.

Elizabethan Playhouses
Elizabethan Theatre

The indoor Elizabethan playhouses were small and well designed. This type of private entertainment theatre hall was very suitable for staging plays during summer and wintry seasons.

Where were the Elizabethan performances held?

There were two types of Elizabethan theatre in England – One was performed by professional actors who held performances in the markets, inns and clubs. The other type of theatre was found in London, which was held by amateurs who performed in the court and gentry.

However, in the latter half of the 16th century, the public theatres developed which was opened for the common mass of the London area. These public theatres are where the real essence of English Renaissance drama emerged with people like Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, James Burbage etc.

Elizabethan playhouse
Elizabethan performances

Why were theatres built in the Elizabethan period?

Building new theatres for the public was encouraged in the Elizabethan period because they could accommodate a vast number of audience from all strata of society. They had tiered sitting as well as standing arrangements with ticket prices available for all classes and working groups.

The acting troupes were patronised and the royalty and the nobles. This also encouraged the composition of new plays and created a boom in the theatre market. Playwrights started experimenting with style and formats which gave birth to exceptional plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare.

When did performances take place?

The performance usually took place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Globe. It was in the middle of the working time so people had to often miss parts of the performance.

Elizabethan Theatre Audience

However, the audience was compelled to buy the tickets paying higher prices. For instance, the entry tickets for watching dramas in the public theatres cost 1-3 pennies whereas the admittance cost to see the dramas in these theatre halls ranged from 2-26 pennies depending on the quality of seating arrangement. If a visitor liked to enjoy a lot by watching the drama sitting on a luxurious cushion of the seat, he had to pay around 26 pennies.

Elizabethan Playhouses

Therefore the common persons were not able to enter into these magnificent playhouses. The inner decoration was really unique and marvellous. The colourful candles were lit inside the tiny theatre hall with the advent of the vesper light during the evening. The interesting fact was that the presentation of the dramas was postponed when the candles burnt completely.

Elizabethan Playhouses
Elizabethan Playhouses

It was a short interval period. People were requested to co-operate with the performers and actors. The candles were replaced and again the dramas were staged. Costumes of the actors were very sumptuous. During the short interval, viewers enjoyed eating snacks and confectionery items including soft drinks.

Elizabethan Playhouse Structure

The professional acting groups of the Elizabethan period gained success in the latter half of the 16th century. Their emergence to success signified the real strength of Elizabethan theatre. The first permanent public theatre was built in 1576 by actor James Burbage called The Theatre.

The Elizabethan stage was a platform of about 40 square feet set up in the middle of the yard so that the audience almost stood surrounding it. It was elevated four to six feet above the ground and was covered on top by a roof called “the heaven” or “the shadow”.

Elizabethan theatre stage
Elizabethan stage

Two pillars on each side of the stage had two upper areas from where things could be lowered down to or lifted up from the stage. There was also a hidden place called the “place of discoveries” for hidden characters. They often contained a trap-door in the centre for hidden characters to appear.

Properties were usually carried into the stage during the performance but some properties were so heavy that they had to be left on stage throughout the performance. The audience was not bothered by these incongruencies.

Where did people sit or not sit?

The common audience which consisted of the middle and lower classes of London did not sit. They would be standing in front of the stage and be surrounding it from three sides. This was a loud and boisterous crowd, mostly illiterate and coming to the theatre for cheap fun.

Elizabethan theatre audience
Elizabethan theatre audience

The more sophisticated people from the upper-classes or the rich ones who could afford to buy the seats would sit in the boxes at the sides that were reserved for them.

In Elizabethan theatre, balconies overlooked the back of the stage. These were basically small galleries and the audience sitting in them would have the enjoy the performance from a distance.

More Info On- Elizabethan Theatre Actors, Costumes, Theatre Facts, Theatre Globe, History of Theatre

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