What were theatres like in the Shakespearean/Elizabethan times?What was the atmosphere like? How did it look?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Most Elizabethan theatres were open-air buildings with a raised stage that helped create better viewing for those with distant positions. Most performances were done during the afternoon, since lighting presented a problem in the days before electricity. Performances were most popular during non-winter months, since the extreme cold of the amphitheatres discouraged many paying customers. The theatre (and its actors) had a somewhat unsavory reputation, and London banned performances within city limits, hence, the building of theatres across the Thames River. Earlier performances were often held in courtyards, inns and in the homes of noblemen. Women often attended (though some wore disguises), but women were banned from performing on-stage; boys or young men usually played the part of females. There was usually one main entrance to the theatre, but there were plenty of stalls used by vendors to sell merchandise and food.  Performances were truly an important event, meant to draw people of all classes including those with only a slight interest in the theatre.

For example, the Globe Theatre (the famed site of many of Shakespeare's plays) could house about 3000 spectators. It was an open-air amphitheatre with both seating for higher paying customers and a "pit" that was used for standing room only (at a cost of usually one penny). The stage was approximately 43 feet x 27 feet and raised 5 feet above the earthen floor, which was probably covered with straw. Trap doors were used for various entries and storage. A roof covered a portion of the rear of the stage. Originally thought to be round, The Globe was probably polygonal.

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