In reference to Greek and Elizabethan theater, discuss "in writing a play, a dramatist is always aware of the physical conditions of the theater."

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Greeks, of course, generally performed in amphitheatres in which the audience could always hear quite well but would not always be able to see anything but the major elements on a stage.  To accommodate those conditions, the Greek playwrights concentrated on words over actions.  Costuming was generally limited to robes, elevated shoes, and exaggerated masks expressing one general emotion which could be changed as each scene warranted.  Much of the action took place offstage and was then discussed for the benefit of the audience, and the playwrights were careful not to expect too much action from actors encumbered by the aforementioned costuming.  The Greeks really were more concerned about the words--and therefore the meaning and themes--than the presentation.  Their drama was in the substance.

Some of the same is true of the Elizabethan theatres, to some degree.  Though the audience was in much closer proximity, the playwrights of this era had to contend with the fact that plays were always performed in the daytime under natural light.  Any time the storyline called for conditions other than daylight, the characters would have to tell us so through dialogue.  The stages were small, so any grand actions had to be brought onto the stage via messenger or some other pretense.  Any battles or sword fightswere necessarily limited to the size of the stage.  Because all the actors were male (which was also true of the Greek stage, but they could have been either, really, given their costuming), and some were playing the roles of females, costuming became a more significant part of Elizabethan drama.  Jokes, flirting, teasing, and innuendo between the male and female characters is a significant part of the script--as are role reversals and male/female mix-ups, especially in Shakespeare.  Lots of special entrances and exits could be made through trap doors and hidden portals, so the playwrights certainly wrote those elements into their works.  These elements are deliberate to the time and stage in which Elizabethan playwrights worked and wrote.

It's pretty clear that, until the modern era when everything became producible and creatable, when imagination met technology, playwrights wrote with the physical considerations of their theatres and stages in mind.

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