Seventeenth Century Audiences-- what would they understand?So now I have finoshed my course and Hamlet.It leaves me with questions-not on Hamlet but on Shakespeare.Did the ordinary worker of the...

Seventeenth Century Audiences-- what would they understand?

So now I have finoshed my course and Hamlet.It leaves me with questions-not on Hamlet but on Shakespeare.Did the ordinary worker of the era understand his words,phraseology and inuendo or was it written for a more educated upper class with the money to purchase tickets to his plays.I believe the latter to be true but wait to be corrected if wrong. Nils


Expert Answers
amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare wrote for the everyday person.  In fact, the groundlings packed the theatre for every showing.  Remember, the syntax of the language is what gives us a hard time today, but when you watch the play--as it is meant to be...not just read in a classroom somewhere--it is all crystal clear.  His plays are made of the stuff that still attract us to the theater daily--conflict, love, hate, revenge, ghosts, incest, mistaken identity, war, peace, humanity.  It is meant for every level of society...not just the educated.  The groundlings paid only a penny to attend, and they often skipped out on work to go to a play!

alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think there was a ton of stuff that people didn't understand at the time they were hearing it, which is probably true of any thing that is on the stage in any era-- the words fly by, there are references not everyone is going to understand (such as literary references). The speed of the dialog makes it hard to catch everything.

It is true that the plays were written so that the average person could get the plot and understand the jokes. That doesn't mean that everyone would understand everything, just that the basic plot and jokes were written in a style that the audience would grasp.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In response to #4:  I understand the basis of your question, but I don't think that it is just Shakespeare that people argue over.  Listen to the commentary track on a movie DVD sometimes.  The director and/or producer will often explain what he or she "meant" by a certain scene - that is, what the underlying theme of the scene was.  Most viewers will not have picked up on that theme.  Any writing has layers to it.  In the case of Shakespeare, we don't have the writer present to explain all of his influences and intentions.  Therefore - critics have to argue about it.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The plays were written for everyone.  Many were performed and written for royalty (weddings, celebrations, etc.); however, their appeal is universal.  This is why so many of the poorer people (the working class) came to see them.  The themes are as common today as they were then.  This is what makes Shakespeare so wonderful and why we still study his work today.  In the Globe Theater, there were some covered areas, but the poorer people would usually stand in the area in front of the stage, which was not covered, so they would brave the elements just to see these plays.

jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most potent image for his audience is the Globe theater itself. There were clearly two audiences and he was a master at aiming at the extreme ends of this spetrum. He would weave allusion to the educated with low brow comedy. Both audiences would have a distinct role in the production, but they also would have an understanding on the meaning aimed at their "other". The groundlings would certainly have similar exiestential thoughts and frustrations as the box crowd would love good low brow comedy and use the groundlings' laughter by proxy.  

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That might be true to some extent (#7), which is why any actor's portrayal is so important.  But the words Shakespeare used...his metrical mastery...his wordplay...all of those things had to have caused reactions in the audiences as well.  Had the words been not nearly as important, the plays probably would not have survived to this day.  And even if they did survive, they would not have been as popular and meaningful as they still are, 400 years later.

knon | Student

So would it perhaps be true to say that the audience reacted more to actors performance than perhaps the words themselves??


knon | Student

If the common people understood what he wrote how come experts are still arguing over just what he said 400 years later?