Elizabethan Theater

By Michael L. Adkins

Theater first appeared in England in the 1500s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  Many plays in the Elizabethan theater were on non-religious subjects.  The non-religious plays written during the 1500s were performed in the inns or houses of noblemen (Taylor 216).

The Elizabethan inn was a structure built around a courtyard that stood three or four stories high.  The rooms built in these three or four story inns opened on to balconies or galleries, which could be reached by usage of outside stairways.  There was an archway which led from the courtyard area to the street.  In order for a play to be placed in a building such as this, it was really a simple process.  The process included putting up a stage on trestles or barrels at the end of the courtyard furthest away from the building entrance and placing a man at the gate area of the building who served the purpose of collecting a penny from anyone who was interested in watching the play but watching it while standing up only.  Anyone who wanted to see the play from the comforts of a seat in the galleries had to pay a shilling (216).

All of the money made from the individuals who paid to see the play went to the innkeeper.  The innkeeper also made money from those who made the choice to purchase refreshments.  Since there was no alternative for the actors to buy refreshments elsewhere besides the inn in which they were performing at, the innkeeper would be willing to not serve food to the actors if the actors themselves did accept the innkeeper's terms for the pricing of his refreshments.  This also held true if the manager for the actors did not accept the innkeeper's terms for pricing (216-17).

Due to the frustrations that came out from many of the managers as a result of the innkeeper's pricing on refreshments, many of the managers decided to open their own theaters.  These new theaters in England were considered theaters which featured play-acting.  The city of London itself would not approve of play-acting which resulted in these new theaters opening up only in areas outside of London.  The theaters opened up in the area south of London and south of the River Thames (217).

Even though London would not approve of play-acting, Queen Elizabeth I did, however, approve of play-acting.  One of the first of the main play-acting theaters to be constructed was the Globe Theater.  Among the first contributors of money given to the theater came from the English writer and actor William Shakespeare (217).

In the play-acting theater, the stage made a jut out into a pit in which the poor members of the audience stood.  All female parts or roles in this type of theater were played by males.  All performances took place during daylight hours.  The performances began in the early portion of the afternoon, which made certain that they would end before dusk.  All performances offered a limited amount of scenery.  Furniture and other stage properties were provided for theatrical performances.  Costumes necessary for each performance were made available to the actors (217-18).

The play-acting theater really brought theater to many in England who had not previously had exposure to theater of any kind.  The play-acting theater was only a short lived concept in England because the effects accompanying the play were too realistic.  It was the too realistic effects that ultimately caused the demise of the Globe Theater in addition to other play-acting theaters like it in England (218).

Trumpets were used quite frequently in the Tudor Theater.  Trumpets were early on associated with many acting companies in England.  After 1574, the instrument was also associated with many playhouses in England.  Queen Elizabeth I herself was the one who made trumpet usage among acting companies and playhouses permissible in England.  In the late 1500s, trumpets were usual only associated with England's ruling class.  Now, some individuals outside of that ruling class were finally able to have an association with the trumpet (Ward 32). 

The use of the trumpet during dramatic scenes in English plays was quite common.  Trumpets were not only used in England for theater purposes.  They were used non theater purposes as well (33).


Works Cited

Taylor, Duncan. Living in England: The Elizabethan Age. New York: Roy Publishers, 1968.

Ward, III, John Milton. “Trumpets and the Tudor Theater.” Bulletin of the American Musicological Society 8 (1945). University of California Press, 22 Mar. 2007 <http://www.jstor.org>.