The Renaissance Theatre By Macey Colburn, Brendan Simpson, Dayana Romero and Bryan D During the late fourteenth through the early seventeenth century an awaking of the arts and learning boomed in the western world. This awaking or rebirth is known as the Renaissance. The Renaissance era was a glorious time. European politics changed dramatically there was a rise of kings and princes and merchants became key economic figures. As people started to accumulate more money they had leisure time to fill and would become eager to show off their fortune by hiring artists to create extravagant works for them.
During the Renaissance there was an apparent change in the art from medieval art. Medieval artists focused on religious subjects in their paintings and sculptures where Renaissance artists focused on human beings and creating realistic paintings and sculptures. In 1450 the printing press was invented and this made literature available to great numbers of people. The Renaissance also saw an impressive development in theatre, especially in Italy, England, Spain, and France. The English Renaissance was a time when language and literature flourished.
This period is often called the Elizabethan period because Queen Elizabeth was the major political figure. She reigned for forty-five years from 1558 to 1603. During this time the English were intrigued by language and Queen Elizabeth was an amateur linguist. Not only did the English love language they also had a love for the theatre. Two great playwrights of the Elizabethan era were Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Christopher Marlowe, one of the most important playwrights of the Elizabethan era, was known for perfecting a key element to theatre; dramatic poetry.
Marlowe’s “mighty line” also known as his dramatic verse in iambic pentameter developed strength, subtlety, and suppleness as well as great lyric beauty. Marlowe wrote several plays including Doctor Faustus (c. 1588) Tamburlaine (Parts 1 and 2; c. 1587) and Edward II (c. 1592). Unfortunately this lyric genius’ life was cut short when he was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl in 1593. He died at the age of twenty- nine. The other great playwright of this era was William Shakespeare. Shakespeare appeared on the theatre scene around 1590 just about the time Marlowe made his debut. He was a native of Stratford-on-Avon and his father was a glove aker and his mother was the daughter of a prominent landowner and farmer. Shakespeare was educated in Stratford and he married Ann Hathaway. She bore him three children and was several years older than Shakespeare. By the time Shakespeare’s third child was born he left his family and went to London where he first worked as an actor and soon after became a playwright. He combined Senecan dramatic devices, the platform stage, powerful dramatic verse, source material form English history, Roman history and drama, and episodic plot structure and made all these elements into the most remarkable plays ever created.
The theatres that were big during the Elizabethan era were public or outdoor theatres. The plays of Shakespeare and Marlowe were mainly performed in public theatres. These theatres where located outside the city limits of London to avoid government restrictions. All levels of society attended public theatres and the most famous public theatre was the Globe theatre because it was the home of Shakespeare’s plays. The theatres were built to hold a lot of people and the exact shape of the theatres varied.
Depending on the shape of the theatres the public theatres could hold between 1,500 to 3,000 people. The stage of the public theaters was a raised platform that was closer to a contemporary thrust than to a proscenium stage. This kind of stage was great for quickly changing locations from a bedroom to a battlefield. In the stage floor were trapdoors. Behind the raised platform was the stage house. The stage house also known as the tiring house was a three story building where changing costumes took place and for storing properties and set pieces.
Other than the public theatre there were also private theatres. The Elizabethan private theatres were indoor spaces lit by candles and had high windows. Private theatres were open to the general public and because they were smaller seating was limited so the private theatres were a bit pricier than the public theatres. Costumes of the Elizabethan Era followed the conventions and traditions of medieval English theatre. During the English Renaissance the monarchy had strict laws and regulations for the acting companies.
Elizabethan acting companies could only have twenty five members and these members were organized on a sharing plan. There were three categories of personal in a company: shareholders, hirelings, and apprentices. Shareholders were the elite members of the company and received a percentage of the troupes profits. Hirelings were actors that were hired for a certain amount of time and were paid a specific salary and played the minor roles. Apprentices were the young performers. They trained for a profession and were assigned to shareholders. Players were a royal pleasure, and to please royalty was a major aim of the companies. The story of the companies between 1572 and 1642 is one of increasing royal favor and protection, from first 1572 statute which gave warrant to their quality, through the accolade of direct royal patronage after 1603, to final period when the royal protection ceased to be meaningful. There is, none the less, despite the royal favours and the origins of the companies in employment as entertainers – Adult mummers or boy choristers – no question but that the profit motive was totally predominant” (Gur 19).
During this time there were no female performers. Women’s roles were often played by boys or men. “The exact date of the actress’s debut is not known, but is usually assumed to be 8 December 1660, when it is known that a woman played Desdemona in a production of Othello by Thomas Killigrew’s King’s Company. A special prologue was written by the poet Thomas Jordon ‘to introduce the first Woman that came to act on the stage in the tragedy called the Moor of Venice’: “The Woman playes today, mistake me not, / No Man in Gown, or Page in PettyCoat.
A week later one Andrew Newport wrote to Sir Richard Leveson that ‘upon our stages we have women actors, as beyond seas’ ”(Howe 19). Companies would rarely perform the same play on two consecutive days and each company had to be able to revive plays in its repertory on very short notice. Because of this the actors were kept on their toes and improvisation was used frequently. Also to keep the actor’s memories refreshed plots or outlines of the dramatic action of the various plays were posted backstage.
Rehearsals were run by playwrights or leading actors and because rehearsal time was minimal the prompter became an asset to the production. Not only in England flourish in great age of renaissance theatre but so did Spain. In the 1550 to 1650 was the Golden Spain Age. Spain became the leading of the New World because of its exploration and conquest of the new world. They controlled all of the Netherlands. But in 1558 it lost it power because of the defeat of Spanish Armada. The Spanish Armada was when Spain was going for the protestant of Queen Elizabeth in England.
One of their difference between the Spanish and the English, was the religion drama. Spanish were the ones that practice more about non religion drama. The full-length secular, as to being three acts, which were comedias. Most of the comedias were about love and honor. One of the play writes of the Golden Age was Lope de Vega who was born on November 25, 1562 after Shakespeare. He wrote about 1,500 plays but said about 470 still today. One of his well known Punishment without Revenge that was written in 1631. Just a few years before he died on August 27, 1635.
Another known play wright was Calderon de la Barca who was born in Madrid, Spain on January 17, 1600. He was known to be one of the greatest dramatists during the Golden Age. One of his well known plays was Life is a Dream that he wrote in 1636. In 1651 Calderon became a priest and still continue to write plays. May 25, 1681. During the Golden Age there were females that were playwrights, but their production was never presented. These playwrights were presented on a stage called Corrales. The Corrales were located in the courtyard by close together building.
The Corrales had a similarity to the English public theater. They had an open- air space. One of the most known Corrales was located in Madrid, the Corral de la Cruz and the Corral del Principe. In the corral it held about 2,000 specters, 1,000 were for men and 350 for women, and the rest was for the government and the clergy. In the Golden Age only about sixteen to twenty performers. The Spanish did include the women also unlike the English. Although the church did not agree with women being performers, so the Spanish government had to eliminate women from acting.
Only women who were married to one of the actors they could be part of the performance. The Renaissance era of theater in France started later than it did on other countries such as England or Spain. In France, Renaissance theater did not start until the late seventeenth century, partially due to a civil war going on at the time between Catholic and Protestant parties, which was brought to an end in fifteen ninety four when King Henry the IV created the Edict of Nantes, which gave tolerance to both the Catholic and protestant religions.
Now that there was religious stability and the political system was settled down, French society was able to grow and flourish under King Louis XIV. During this time France sent expeditions to Canada and the Louisiana Territory in America. During this period of peace in france, the society was influenced greatly by the innovations and ideas of the Italian Renaissance. Many aspects of French theater were taken from themes of the Italian Renaissance. Even though there were many playwrights during this period, a few of the most important were Moliere, Pierre Corneille, and Jean Racine.
Moliere was most widely known for his comedies while Corneille and Racine were known for their tragedies. Out of these three writers, Moliere was probably the most influential to the french Renaissance. He was not only a dramatist, but he actually acted as well and headed up a theatrical troupe. His first couple ventures into theater were failures, but he soon learned from his mistakes and came back as one of the most influential playwrights in the history of French Renaissance.
His work was strongly influenced by Italian commedia dell’arte and uses this style in his plays such as “Tartuffe”, “The Misanthrope”, and “The Miser”. This style uses exaggerated characters and makes fun of the exaggerations that the characters portray. Corneille and Racine also wrote some notable plays such as Corneille’s play “The Cid” and Racine’s play “Phaedra” but some of their plays were looked at in a negative manner for their writing style or lack of following the rules of playwriting at the time.
The style of theaters and performance stages used in France during the Renaissance period were also unique. One notable theater was in the Hotel de Bourgogne. It was a long narrow platform stage which was the only indoor theater in Paris for almost a century until sixteen thirty four. There was also a strong Italian influence in the theaters in France as well. The amphitheaters were a good example of this. Even though the architecture differed slightly, they still consisted of a stage that backed up to a wall with rows of bleacher like seating in front of the stage.
In the sixteen fifties, Louis XIV built a theater called the Hall Of Machines. This was the largest playhouse in Europe and enabled sets to be lowered onstage from above the stage. Even though the French Renaissance did not start as early as other countries, and some of their ideas were borrowed from other countries such as Italy, it still had an influence on theater and produced some great writers and actors such as Moliere’s work became prominent at the time. Corneille and Racine’s tragedies were also notable at the time.
But despite the fact that France had some innovations in theater and some great plays, most of their theatrical traditions were heavily patterned after the already established ways of Italian theater and designs. MLA Citations Sources: http://www. cwu. edu/~robinsos/ppages/resources/Theatre_History/Theahis_8. html VIII. The Theatre in France–1500-1700, Scott R. Robinson Howe, Elizabeth. “Chapter 1. ” The First English Actresses. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. Viii+. Print. Gurr, Andrew. “2. The Companies. ” The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970. 1-183. Print.
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