What were some major differences between the Elizabethan and modern theatre? 

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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We can definitely add more to this list.  First, a recap.  Yes, the roles in Elizabethan theater were performed by men while the audiences were of both genders.  Yes, most plays were written in poetic form instead of in regular prose form.  But there are MORE differences.

Wealthy Patron vs. Producer:  In Elizabethan times, playwrights were beholden to their wealthy patrons in order to have their plays performed on a stage.  Actor's payment, setting, props, costumes, ... they were all dependent on this patron in order for a play to make it to an eventual performance.

Natural Light vs. Electricity:  In Elizabethan times, the plays had to be put on during the middle of the day.  The reason was simple: NO ELECTRICITY.  This caused some definite issues:  more distractions from the audience, less focus on the actors, heat, cold, weather, etc.  There are instances where candles and other lights were used, but it was the natural sunlight that helped the actors be seen.  Modern play, of course, are mostly put on in the evenings and depend fully on electric light.  There is a lot less distraction as a result.

Voice vs. Microphone:  In Elizabethan times, this was truly a conundrum.  An actor having a booming voice was IMPERATIVE to his trade!  Without a voice that carried, the poor groundlings in the back would have NO idea what was going on.  In short, the production would fail.  Now, a booming voice isn't necessary.  In fact, sometimes, for a more soft-spoken character, it can be an impediment!  The amplification of voice due to modern microphones has been quite a change in theater.

Memory vs. Photography:  In Elizabethan times, all one had to remember a play was one's mind!  There may, once in a blue moon, be a drawing of something or other, but most theater-goers had to depend on their memory to remember character, plot, costume, etc.  There were few true "celebrities" in that the people that performed were heavily costumed.  They might be known, but not worshiped.  These days, we covet the newest photo of the latest star. 

Live vs. Taped:  A play in Elizabethan times was performed live.  Period.  Once the series of performances were over, they were OVER. Movies allowed live performances, as early as the early twentieth century, to be viewed again and again and again.  And apart from movies, even theatrical performances can be taped in order to be sold and/or the soundtracks are most definitely always sold in order to be listened to by the consumer.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The first major and striking difference between modern and Elizabethan theater had to do with gender roles. The actors were exclusively male, with female roles being played by male actors wearing female clothing. The audience was both genders with wealthy women wearing masks to hide their identities. Private theatre had small upper class audiences of both genders, but public theatre had large audiences of all classes and both genders.

Another major difference was that most Elizabethan drama was written in verse and most modern drama is composed in prose. The staging for Elizabethan drama was fairly abstract, and did not attempt the realism of the proscenium stage. Although Elizabethan theater had both tragedy and comedy, including short plays called "interludes", there was less diversity of genre and style than is the case with modern drama.

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etotheeyepi | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Have electric lights, electric amplification, and photography changed theater.  In Elizabethan theater, no one would say, "I'm ready for my closeup Mr. Demille."

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