Current Restoration

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  • 1) I have only one question for you. But it will require a little research using Google. This is all you need! Question . . . What can you tell us about the Globe Theater (either the original theater or the current restoration of the theater)? Facts, anecdotes, trivia are all appreciated!

The Elizabethan stages were “thrust” stages. The stage thrust or jutted into the audience so that the audience was on three sides of the stage. There was no front curtain. There were few barriers between the actors and their audience. Typically, Elizabethan stages had five levels–lots of room for the actors to perform. Trapdoors were on the raised stage floor allowing ghosts or even a devil or two to make their entrances from beneath the stage or the mouth of Hell. The trapdoors also could serve as burial plots.

When Hamlet is overcome with grief at the funeral of his beloved Ophelia, he leaps in her grave (aka–the trapdoors). Themost important scenes were performed on the main stage which was a raised platform. The tiring house (stage house and changing room) served as a backdrop to the action (much like the skene house in Greek theater). Above the main stage was a balcony (remember Romeo and Juliet?). Beneath the roof of the theater were pulleys so that actors could be dropped from the heavens if the script called for this. Also beneath the roof was room for a prop person who could drop down birds orthunderbolts, etc. and create sound effects such as rain or the sounds of battle. In this same area was room for trumpeters and musicians. The roof above also served as an acting area.

Additionally, the yard in which the groundlings stood might be viewed as a sixth acting area where the actors when the actors would leap off the main stage to dual amidst the audience.The Elizabethan audience (as you can see from the primary sources in your readings in the lesson this week) were a tough crowd–especially at the less expensive public/outdoor theaters. They wandered about and ate during the performances. Reportedly, the groundlings would throw food at the actors if they were bored or displeased with the production. Playwrights were challenged to entertain and maintain the interest of their audiences. Thus, crowd pleasing stage effects were always present. In one of your readings for this week, you heard about how Shakespeare’s Globe Theater burned to the ground as aresult of a misdirected cannon blast that was shot off on stage during a battle scene.

Many scripts, such as Hamlet, called for realistic and spectacular sword fights. Stage swords were designed to retract upon the stabbing; the “victim” actor was equipped with a bladder of sheep’s blood that would burst at the “point” of impact. Better yet that the groundlings get spattered! In Shakespeare of London, Marchette Chute describes a particularly spectacular and bloody stage effect.

“In The Battle of Alcazar, there was a disemboweling scene for which the property man supplied three vials of blood and the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep. Then it was up to the actor Edward Alleyn and his two fellow performers to use skillful substitution in such a way as to create the illusion, before a critical London audience in broad daylight, that their organs were being torn out.” Sometimes, real swords and knives were used. In this case, the “victim” actor would wear a plate under his costume to protect him from injury. Chute describes a player who died because he performed drunk and forgot his plate.

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