Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
The magnitude and potency of William Shakespeare’s reputation often obscure much that is significant about the theatrical world in which his plays were first produced. Because Shakespeare now belongs to the Western tradition generally, and because almost four centuries of cultural experience—shaped in part by the plays themselves—stand between modern readers and the playwright, modern readers and audiences sometimes assume that the original performance circumstances are inconsequential or immaterial to the study of the plays’ meaning. Even those familiar with the history of Elizabethan acting companies sometimes forget that much of the original significance of the plays depends upon the audience that Shakespeare saw before him and sought to address. Minute critical examination of the plays, especially without regard for the practical exigencies of performance, also obscures the important shaping force that the audience—the consumers of the theatrical commodity—represents.
Without denying that the works of Shakespeare are immensely valuable and meaningful even to audiences unfamiliar with theater history, Andrew Gurr, professor of English at the University of Reading, England, offers all readers an opportunity to become acquainted with the rich world of the Elizabethan and Stuart stage in this brief but thorough study of “playgoing.” In the broad definition that he gives to the term, it includes not only the social and economic composition...
(The entire section is 1897 words.)
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