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History of Elizabethan Theatre

In: Film and Music

Submitted By maryclary
Words 620
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Performing Arts

Theatre in London

Amphitheatre –Romans at Guildhall

Liturgical dramas (from the service of worship).

Took place in church during the Easter celebration. Sung and in Latin – vast cycles

performed all over Europe in medieval times. Performed by Monks and nuns inside

church. The spice seller was the first comic character as well as the first non-religious


Liturgical dramas developed into Mystery/ Miracle plays and were performed outside.

This is when we get the first actors.

Mystery Plays

In England different Craft Guilds were employed to perform different plays e.g.

Carpenters acted out the story of Noah’s Ark and the Fishmongers the story of

Jonah and the Whale. They were performed on wagons or temporary stages. The

audience would move to different wagons to watch different plays. They might see

six or eight short plays in a day. The performers were all amateur and all male.

The Mystery Plays that we know today are the York Cycle of Mystery Plays and the

Chester Cycle. Most of the others have been lost over the centuries.

The Tudor monarchy was very flamboyant. Henry VII had his own company of

players. This dynasty loved tournaments, and royal processions etc.

There was an increase of professional actors in 16thc. They were attached to noble

and royal families who protected them from religious and political turbulence. This

religious upheaval eventually silenced the performance of Mystery plays.

In 1548 the feast day of Corpus Christi was suppressed and Mystery plays were

banned. However performances carried on for three decades in the North and the

Midlands that were far away from the centre of power in London but by 1581 they

had stopped being performed there as well.

The time was ripe for non – religious plays to be performed by actors.

No actresses – thought shameful to show oneself off.

The Church railed against Actors.

By the mid -16th

all over England.

Elizabethan Theatre

In 1576, James Burbage built the 1st theatre. It was called The Theatre and was

in the area of Shoreditch on the North Bank of the Thames just outside the City of

London. His son Richard Burbage was the star of The King’s Men (formerly known

as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men).

C, plays were written for public performances and companies toured

The Curtain Theater

Built in 1577 and used by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men whilst waiting for the Globe

to be built.

All plays had to be licensed before they could be performed and The Master of the

Revels issued the licence.

Edmund Tylney was The Master of the Revels in Shakespeare’s time and licensed

thirty of his plays.

The Rose was built in 1587 on the South Bank by Phillip Henslowe. It was the first

theatre to be built on the South Bank and was so successful that other theatres soon

followed. (The Swan 1595 and The Globe 1599). Edward Alleyn was the star of the

Rose Theatre in the company known as The Admiral’s Men.

The Globe was built in 1599 from the dismantled timbers of the Theatre in

Shoreditch. Shakespeare became one of the shareholders of this company.

Civil War in England brought about the closure of the theatres in 1642 by Oliver

Cromwell and the Puritans. They remained closed for eighteen years

Charles 1 beheaded 1649

Oliver Cromwell ruled England as a Commonwealth until 1658 when he died. His son

Richard Cromwell ruled after him (just like an heir to the throne) but he was useless

so they asked Charles II (son of the beheaded king) to come back and be King!

Restoration 1660

Charles II comes back as King. Theatres re-open. He issues a charter – all women’s

parts to be played by women.

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