The people who stood in front of the stage to watch the plays were called __________.This is a question on my research project for theater arts & I cannot find it on any site! If anyone knows...

The people who stood in front of the stage to watch the plays were called __________.

This is a question on my research project for theater arts & I cannot find it on any site!

If anyone knows the answer i'd greatly appreciate it.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's time most spectators, known as groundlings, stood in the yard around the platform stage.

Few members of Shakespeare's audience could afford to purchase seats; only the well-to-do customers sat in covered galleries around the stage. Interestingly, it is partly because of his audiences being composed of numerous groundlings that Shakespeare began many of his plays with action and exciting dialogue. Though most people could not read, the groundlings enjoyed the musicality of spoken poetic language. They responded to the beauty and grandeur of the lyrical lines as well as the puns and word games Shakespeare incorporated into his dialogue.

Indeed, Shakespeare was able to satisfy the many different tastes of his audiences. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, he captured the attention of groundlings and noblemen alike in the vigorous action of the first act, as well as the fights of the third and final acts. There is boisterous humor in the scenes with Mercutio, who teases Romeo and the Nurse. Of course, the balcony scene of act 2 is famous for its romantic beauty and splendid poetry—language that groundlings and noblemen alike would have loved. 

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The people who stood in front of the stage were called "Groundlings" during the Elizabethan era, & the name has carried through the centuries. The name derives from the fact that the patrons stood on the ground, rather than sitting in the seats of the balcony.

People who sat in the balcony were typically upper-class members of society who could afford to keep dry & clean while watching the play. The groundlings paid a penny to stand in "The Pit", also called "The Yard", just below the stage and watch the play. Standing in the pit was uncomfortable, and most times people were packed like sardines, keeping each other standing. Also, they were exposed to the elements, as the theatre itself was not covered.

Shakespeare used the term in Hamlet; the title character uses it as a derogatory label for the poorer members of the theatre audience. Also, a very popular LA-based improv group has been using the name for about 35 years, carrying on the classic theatre tradition.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term you are looking for here is "groundlings."

The groundlings were the poorest people, such as apprentices, who could afford to go to the theater.  They could not afford to pay for seats, so they stood in the pit in front of the stage.

The area in which these people stood would have been very dirty and uncomfortable so it would not have been a lot of fun for anyone who could afford better.

Because this was the lower class area, it would also have been the scene of a lot of activity, like gambling, that you don't really associate with Shakespearean plays, which we now think of as really high class.