How do theatres of Shakespeare's time and modern times compare?
Compare and contrast the theatre-going experience of Shakespeare’s time to the experience of modern theatre patrons. Consider how the Globe Theatre reflects the social structure of Elizabethan England and how the modern theatre does the same for our time.
Three areas of difference: Elizabethan theatre was a popularist entertainment, more like movie theatre entertainment that elitist. Second, the city of London was the center of the industry, like New York’s Broadway or like London’s West End. Today, in the venue called regional theatre, people in any metropolitan region can see professional live theatre. Thirdly, the duration of a play’s run was shorter—today, plays run on Broadway for months, even years, while Elizabethan plays only ran a few weeks before they were replaced. Audience make-up was more widely distributed over social classes—the poorest could afford to be in the “standing” “mosh pit” area—they were called groundlings, and stood through the entire performance. The better seats, somewhat like today’s balcony and side gallery areas, were more expensive and held nobility and rich merchants. Going to the theatre was more impulsive; now you must reserve and buy your tickets well in advance. Most importantly, going to today’s theatre is considered an elitist activity; in Shakespeare’s time it was populist.
In the Elizabethan period there were several theaters, and all were well attended as plays were a major form of entertainment. Audiences interacted with the actors because there were no curtains and the groundlings could get close to the stage as they stood in the center area with the stage around them in a horseshoe shape, much like the courtyard of an inn.
At the back of the stage there were two large doors, while in the center of the platform that was the stage there was usually a recess or an inner stage concealed by a curtain. In a play such as Romeo and Juliet that inner stage could serve as the cell of Friar Laurence or Juliet's tomb. A balcony often stood above this recess and can serve as a balcony scene. Since there was no lighting, plays were performed in the afternoons with atmosphere created by the beauty of the poetry. For instance, in Act II, Scene 1, Romeo creates the scene as he says,
But soft! What light through yonder windo breaks!
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun?
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she. (2.1.2-6)
Because there was no front curtain on the Elizabethan stage, the actors made their entrances and exits in full view of the audiences. Further, there was no scenery and no lighting; therefore, plays were performed in the afternoon, and playwrights and actors had to rely on words and actions. On the positive side, the play moved quickly because of this lack of scenery.
All the acting troupes were composed of men; young women's parts were played by boys. Usually there were fifteen full members in a company of players who shared the profits. Often, in such acting troupes, certain roles became specialized and playwrights often wrote parts that were tailored for these actors.
Audiences were from every level of society with the groundlings standing in the inside of the horseshoe shape and royalty in the covered galleries around the stage. These Elizabethans demanded vigorous action and excitement, especially the groundlings. Also, they reveled in puns and word play. The upper classes espeially delighted in the beautiful poetry and the musicality of the language.
Modern audiences differ from the Elizabeth ones as the social class of the modern audience does not vary as much, and the language is not as bawdy since there is no need to appeal to lower classes.Playwrights have their works protected by copyrights, so their work won't be stolen as in Elizabethan days.