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and Shoreditch, which the Great Eastern Railway now occupies. The innovation of a theatre, even though it were placed outside the walls of the city, excited serious misgiving among the godly minority. But, after much controversy the battle was finally won by the supporters of the play, and The Theatre was launched on a prosperous career. Two or three other theatres quickly sprang up in neighbouring parts of London's environment. When Shakespeare was reaching the zenith of his career, the centre of theatrical life was transferred from Shoreditch to the Southwark bank of the river Thames, at the south side of London Bridge, which lay outside the city's boundaries, but was easy of access to residents within them. It was at the Globe Theatre on Bankside, which was reached by bridge or by boat from the city-side of the river, that Shakespearean drama won its most glorious triumphs.
Despite the gloomy warnings of the preachers, the new London theatres had for the average Elizabethan all the fascination that a new toy has for a child. The average Elizabethan repudiated the jeremiads of the ultra-pious, and instantaneously became an enthusiastic playgoer. During the last year of the sixteenth century, an intelligent visitor to London, Thomas Platter, a native of Basle, whose journal has recently been discovered, de
1 Professor Binz of Basle printed in September, 1899, some extracts from Thomas Platter's unpublished diary of travels under the title: Londoner Theater und Schauspiele im Jahre 1599. Platter spent a month in London-September 18 to October 20, 1599. Platter's manuscript is in the Library of Basle University.
DISCOMFORTS OF AN AUDIENCE
scribed with ingenuous sympathy the delight which the populace displayed in the new playhouses.
Some attractions which the theatres offered had little concern with the drama. Their advantages included the privileges of eating and drinking while the play was in progress. After the play there was invariably a dance on the stage, often a brisk and boisterous Irish jig.
Other features of the entertainment seem to have been less exhilarating. The mass of the spectators filled the pit, where there was standing room only; there were no seats. The admission rarely cost more than a penny; but there was no roof. The rain beat at pleasure on the heads of the "penny" auditors; while pickpockets commonly plied their trade among them without much hindrance when the piece absorbed the attention of the “house.” Seats or benches were only to be found in the two galleries, the larger portions of which were separated into “rooms” or boxes; prices there ranged from twopence to half-a-crown. If the playgoer had plenty of money at his command he could, according to the German visitor, hire not only a seat but a cushion to elevate his stature; “so that," says our author, “he might not only see the play, but”—what is also often more important for rich people—“be seen” by the audience to be occupying a specially distinguished place. Fashionable playgoers of the male sex might, if they opened their purses wide enough, occupy stools on the wide platform-stage. Such a practice proved embarrassing, not only to the performers, but to those who had to content themselves with the penny pit. Standing in front and by the sides of the projecting stage, they could often only catch glimpses of the actors through chinks in serried ranks of stools.
The histrionic and scenic conditions, in which Shakespeare's plays were originally produced, present a further series of disadvantages which, from any modern point of view, render the more amazing the unqualified enthusiasm of the Elizabethan playgoer.
There was no scenery, although there were crude endeavours to create scenic illusion by means of “properties” like rocks, tombs, caves, trees, tables, chairs, and pasteboard dishes of food. There was at the outset no music, save flourishes on trumpets at the opening of the play and between the acts. The scenes within each act were played continuously without pause. The bare boards of the plat
. form-stage, which no proscenium nor curtain darkened, projected so far into the auditorium, that the actors spoke in the very centre of the house. Trapdoors were in use for the entrance of “ghosts” and other mysterious personages. At the back of the stage was a raised platform or balcony, from which often hung loose curtains; through them the actors passed to the forepart of the stage. The balcony was pressed into the service when the text of the play indicated that the speakers were not actually standing on the same level. From the raised platform Juliet addressed Romeo in the balcony scene, and the citizens of Angers in King John held colloquy with the English besiegers. This was, indeed, almost the furthest limit of the Elizabethan stage - manager's notion of scenic realism. The boards, which were bare save for the occasional presence of rough properties, were held to present
THE ELIZABETHAN ACTOR'S COSTUME
adequate semblance, as the play demanded, of a king's throne-room, a chapel, a forest, a ship at sea, a mountainous pass, a market-place, a battle-field, or a churchyard.
The costumes had no pretensions to fit the period or place of the action. They were the ordinary dresses of various classes of the day, but were often of rich material, and in the height of the current fashion. False hair and beards, crowns and sceptres, mitres and croziers, armour, helmets, shields, vizors, and weapons of war, hoods, bands, and cassocks, were mainly relied on to indicate among the characters differences of rank or profession.
The foreign observer, Thomas Platter of Basle, was impressed by the splendour of the actors' costumes. He accounted for it in a manner that negatives any suggestion of dramatic propriety :
“The players wear the most costly and beautiful dresses, for it is the custom in England, that when noblemen or knights die, they leave their finest clothes to their servants, who, since it would not be fitting for them to wear such splendid garments, sell them soon afterwards to the players for a small sum.”
The most striking defect in the practice of the Elizabethan playhouse, according to accepted notions, lies in the allotment of the female rôles. It was thought unseemly for women to act at all. Female parts were played by boys or men—a substitution lacking, from the modern point of view, in grace and seemliness. But the standard of propriety in such matters varies from age to age. Shakespeare alludes quite complacently to the appearance of boys and men in women's parts. He makes Rosalind say, laughingly and saucily, to the men of the audience in the epilogue to As You Like It, “If I were a woman I would kiss as many of
you as had beards that pleased me.” “If I were a woman,” she says. The jest lies in the fact that the speaker was not a woman but a boy. Similarly, Cleopatra on her downfall in Antony and Cleopatra, (V. ii. 220), laments
the quick comedians Extemporally will stage us ... and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness. The experiment of entrusting a boy with the part of Ophelia was lately tried in London not unsuccessfully; but it is difficult to realise how a boy or young man could adequately interpret most of Shakespeare's female characters. It seems almost sacrilegious to conceive the part of Cleopatra, the most highly sensitised in its minutest details of all dramatic portrayals of female character,-it seems almost sacrilegious to submit Cleopatra's sublimity of passion for interpretation by an unfledged representative of the other sex. Yet such solecisms were imperative under the theatrical system of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Men taking women's parts seem to have worn masks, but that can hardly have improved matters. Flute, when he complains that it would hardly befit him to play a woman's part because he had a beard coming, is bidden by his resourceful manager, Quince, play Thisbe in a "mask.” At times actors who had long lost the roses of youth masqueraded in women's rôles. Thereby the ungainliness which marked the distribution of the