Study Guide

William Shakespeare Globe Theatre

Globe Theatre

The Chamberlain's Men performed for the queen in the royal court, but they also performed for the middle-class public. In 1599 the company finished construction on the Globe Theatre, a wooden, open-air playhouse designed with the stage in the center and the audience arranged in tiers that rose up from the polygon-shaped floor. Many of Shakespeare's best-known plays premiered here, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night.

Attendance at a Globe production was hardly the dignified, hushed event that we consider attending the theater to be today. Since this was long before electricity was invented, all performances were held during the day. There were no lights, curtains, microphones, or actresses—young men played female roles. You could shell out half-a-crown (about $50 today) for a box seat, or pay a penny ($1.66) to stand on the floor with the other common folks. Actors—or "players," as they were known at that time—were generally considered by the Elizabethans to be a scruffy, itinerant bunch, though the profession gained more respect during Shakespeare's time. Their acting was not necessarily what we would consider "good." To make themselves understood in the noisy, open-air theater, actors relied on exaggerated gestures and cadence to get their points across. Acting meant overacting.

Despite the stuffy conditions in the theater or the hamminess of the guys on stage, Shakespeare's language made the plays unforgettable. In an introductory note to the First Folio, Shakespeare's actor colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell wrote that Shakespeare's plays appealed to all, "From the most able, to him that can but spell."blank" rel="nofollow">As You Like It into cross-dressing ladies? Probably not. Shakespeare's inspiration was, as far as we know, not his personal experience. It was the human experience, and of this he was an unparalleled observer.

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