« ZurückWeiter »
Theater. The next playhouses were built south of the river Thames. The Rose, on the Bankside, was completed at least as early as 1592, and The Swan, near by, a very few years later. The Blackfriars Theater, built in 1596, was located within the city limits, at the southwest. The property had formerly belonged to the "black friars," and seems to have been free in a measure from the control of the city authorities. In 1599 The Theater was torn down, and the timbers were used in erecting The Globe, on the Bankside. The Fortune was erected in 1600, on the northern edge of the western portion of the city. Thus there were certainly as many as six theaters in existence at the close of 1600.
Before 1888 our knowledge of the interior arrangement of an English theater during the lifetime of Shakespeare was very vague. In that year a German scholar named Gaedertz published a facsimile of a pen-and-ink drawing of the interior of the famous Swan theater. This drawing was made by a Dutchman named John de Witt, who was visiting in London, and it is thought to belong to about the year 1596. The drawing of De Witt is reproduced here.
It will be seen that the theater is either oval or circular in shape; that the body of the house and the front of the stage are open to the sky; and that the back of the stage and the three galleries, which rise one above the other on the outside of the theater, are roofed over. These galleries are divided into private boxes. The spectators in the pit, or yard, in front of the stage stood while witnessing the performance.
A roof covers the rear portion of the stage. on top of this roof is a small tower room, which is the loftiest portion of the entire theater. In the drawing of De Witt a flag having on it the figure of a "swan" is flying from this tower, and a trumpeter is sounding a blast in order to announce that a play is about to begin.
There was no curtain before the front stage. Every character in a front scene must enter and go off before our eyes. If any had been slain they must be carried off. When Falstaff bears away on his back the dead Hotspur, in order to boast of having killed him, in 1 Henry IV, Shakespeare skillfully brings into the substance of his play the necessary clearing of the stage. At the close of many of the tragedies the characters themselves give directions for carrying off the dead.
The front stage usually had little or no scenery. It could represent any open place. As soon as one scene was completed by the going off of the characters a new set of persons could at once enter, and the audience would imagine any desired change of scene, provided only that the action was still in the open air. Thus the many short scenes in the first part of Coriolanus, in which bands of Roman and Volscian warriors come before us alternately, were presented with a simplicity, rapidity, and effectiveness that our stage knows nothing of. Our editors of Shakespeare are sometimes too anxious to give an exact location to each of these front scenes. The audience understood them to be enacted
"in an open place," or simply "out of doors."
The special use of the back stage was to represent a room in a palace or princely house.
Upon this portion of the stage, use was made of a few appropriate articles of furniture and other "properties." The walls were sometimes hung with arras, behind which Falstaff ensconces himself on one occasion and Polonius on another. In Romeo and Juliet the back stage represents the great reception hall of Capulet. In Act V it was transformed into the tomb of the Capulets. Domestic scenes were acted upon this back stage. Here appeared Lady Percy, Calpurnia, both Portias, and all the other noble women of Shakespeare, closing with Imogen, Hermione, and Queen Katharine. This English type of stage was carried to Ger
many, and the German stage directions of that time speak of the "inner stage."
In the last act of The Tempest, where Prospero "discovers [that is, discloses] Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess," we are to understand that he draws back the side curtains, which up to that moment had shut off the back stage, in order that the king of Naples and his nobles may behold the lovers.
It must be admitted that we see nothing in the sketch of any curtain that could be drawn to separate the front part of the stage from the back. The Swan had a removable stage, two of the supports of which we see in the picture. This fact enabled the structure to be changed into an amphitheater for various athletic contests; and this theater appears to have been more frequently employed for such uses than as a playhouse. It may be, therefore, that it was not fully supplied with the usual stage devices. That a portion of the stage could be curtained off in a well-equipped Elizabethan theater, is certain.
The doors which lead from the back stage into the "tiring house," or dressing-room, sometimes come into the action. For example, they represent the gates of Corioli. Through one of these Caius Marcius enters the city alone, and then fights his way out again covered with blood, thus inspiring his followers to capture the city, and winning for himself the proud name, Coriolanus. These same doors are the gates of many different castles and cities in the plays which are named from the various English kings.
Only one who has given special attention to the matter can realize how important in the presentation of Shakespeare's plays was the balcony over the "tiring house." This third, or upper stage, with the rear wall of the back stage, represented the walls of many cities and castles; for example, the castle wall from which young Arthur jumps to his death in King John. This little gallery becomes the
window from which Brabantio speaks at the opening of Othello, and the window of Juliet's chamber. In the sketch of the Swan Theater, this balcony seems to be occupied by spectators.
Professor Alois Brandl believes that inasmuch as the back stage was furnished and arranged to represent in a rough way each specific indoor scene, two back scenes representing different interiors could not come in succession, since this would give no opportunity to change the furnishings, and the Elizabethan audiences had not learned to wait. He thinks that Shakespeare was compelled to insert at least one front scene whenever two back scenes with different settings would otherwise come together. Sometimes these inserted scenes are dramatically superfluous and ineffective. III, vi, of Richard III, and III, v, of The Merchant of Venice have been considered to be scenes of this kind, forced upon Shakespeare by a stage necessity. Since III, ii, of Julius Caesar uses the entire stage, as we shall see, and IV, i, a room in a house at Rome, requires the back stage, it has been claimed that III, iii, was necessary in order to give time for the preparing of the back stage for IV, i, and that III, iii, is in itself a useless scene. III, iii, is almost universally omitted upon the stage at the present day.
The stage directions of Julius Cæsar in the Folio are very scanty. Let us go through the play and consider how each scene was presented on the Elizabethan stage. The whole of Act I would be presented upon the front stage, in the open air; also the first scene of Act II, in Brutus's orchard. From his orchard Brutus hears the knocking upon the door of the dressing-room back of the stage, which represents the outer door of his house. Scene ii of Act II, in Cæsar's house, is the first indoor scene, the first one played upon. the back stage. Scenes iii and iv are street scenes on the front stage. The opening of Act III is a problem. The Folio simply states that the characters "enter" at the begin