Shakespeare of London Questions and Answers
by Marchette Gaylord Chute

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We learn about Shakespeare the actor,producer,director, and theatre owner from Chute's book. Detail the evolution of Shakespeare's involvement in the theatre world and assess its importance to him. Could you argue that being an actor/director/producer made him a better playwright, or vice versa?

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William Shakespeare was an actor before he was a writer, and even after he began writing plays, he continued to act. In this way, Shakespeare stayed close to a large segment of potential audiences for his own works, and he maintained the proverbial common touch. Certainly, he knew what audiences enjoyed and how they reacted to beautiful verse, action, and comedic antics. In addition, he understood thoroughly the layout and dynamics of the stages of his time which helped him to write his plays so that there would be no delays or awkward exits or entrances. He knew, too, that because the bare platform stage with the standing audience around it in a courtyard placed an audience close to the action, so it was necessary to entertain the groundlings and keep their interest. Shakespeare's intense action in the first scene with such things as duels, his use of puns and other humor as well as prose filled with colorful imagery were things they would entertain them well.

Shakespeare was also well acquainted with the physical layout of the Elizabethan stage, a fact that assisted in smoother performances as he knew how to design his plays so that each scene could flow into the next. He also knew how to write for indoor and outdoor plays. After the Blackfriars was constructed, the five-act play became more important to Shakespeare because there was artificial lighting so that the play could last longer. Further, as he knew of the layouts of stages, Shakespeare would know what props to use and how to make best use of trapdoors. For instance, the curtain discovery-place where the rising of ghosts and apparitions and the descents of gods could be effected, and a dialogue between one character a window and another could take place. Also a trapdoor could offer the use of ropes so something like the ass head could be lowered in A Midsummer Night's Dream. On the gallery stage above, a balcony could be effected for Juliet.

As an actor, too, Shakespeare knew that a gender switch or change of costume would take fifty to eighty lines of dialogue, so in Twelfth Night, for instance, he would have slowed down the action just at the moment of the climax, so Viola does not resume her "maiden weeds" but just relies on the imagination of the audience so as to not delay the action of the play. There is no question that Shakespeare's experience as an actor served him greatly in his productions while his rapport with other actors also aided him as a director and a playwright because he could fashion his parts for the actors he preferred.

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