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William Shakespeare, Elizabethian Actors, and Stage Techniques

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                       William Shakespeare   Shakespeare's grave   Shakespeare's given coat of arms


          William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick-shire, England. His original birth date was unknown, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564. He was an English poet and playwright and is frequently regarded as the greatest writer ever to live. His brilliance and pieces are still well known today but only 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and two long narrative poems still exist today. His plays are performed more today than any other play in the world and many of his works have been translated in every major living language.


          At 18 years old he married Anne Hathaway and had three children: a daughter Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. Soon later in 1585 he became a successful actor, writer, and owner in a play company called Lord Chamberlain's Men in London. He was said to have went back to his home town around 1613. He then tragically died there 3 years later.


          In the later years many people came into controversy about Shakespeare. His work became very popular but there was no records of his personal life or private life. No one could prove if he even wrote his own plays and poems or if they were written by others. Nothing was known about his looks, religion, or sexuality. This arose problems as many people in later years came to the conclusion that religion and sexuality may decide if the pieces of Shakespeare were appropriate for certain age groups and people in general.


          Shakespeare's style was conventional of the time period when he first began to write his plays and poems, but he soon transitioned to his own unique style.  He was known for combining a traditional style and a free style. The best example of this is in the tradgedy "Romeo and Juliet".  Shakespeare originally created his poems using the standard poetic form of blank verse, and composed them in "iambic pentameter". This meant that the verse was unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable.


          This was often beautiful, but sometimes its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of lines, which could lead to monotony. After he wrote "Hamlet", he varied his style greatly.  His stlye became more "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical" according to A.C Bradley.  In the last phase of his career, he adopted to achieve most of these techniques. These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length.


          Shakespeare wrote most of his work between the years 1590 and 1613. His work was mostly composed of comedies, romances, tragedies, and histories. He was very famously known for his tragedies such as "Hamlet" and "Macbeth", and his romances such as "Romeo and Juliet". For these he was very respected in his time, but was also tremendously recognized in the 19Th and 20Th century and still is today.




Elizabethan Actor                         Theatre where actors/playwrights frequently held plays


          Elizabethan actors were commonly men who could play multiple personalities and roles. Although many people think that actors were all well respected it was not true. Elizabethan actors were though of as rogues and vagabonds. Since plays were sometimes looked at as a threat to society, they began to be regulated. Actors were also subject to suspicion and were constantly disrespected. But some loved them and their work. Queen Elizabeth was the number one person who loved the theater and everything about it.


          Actors were kept at big baronial estates of Lord's. But not all were accepted to one place and many of the actors would wander around and live where ever they were welcome. The live of a traveling Elizabethan actor was not easy. They frequently were homeless and in search for places to live. Their life was never about living richly but in fact had more of a poor aspect. Then a couple years later, the popularity of these actors dramatically increased.


          These men in theater soon became the same as superstars today. They would soon become stake holders of the theater and became wealthy men. Not only did these men get a lot of money and play for 3,000 people a day, they also played for royalty such as Queen Elizabeth herself. These actors became highly respected in society and were frequently related to the great Greek actors of previous times.


          The costumes that these actors wore would tell you of their respectability. They were all made of luxurious fabrics and were very brightly colored. Believe it or not, these bright colors were outlawed in Elizabethans and were only granted permission to the actors, wealthy, and royalty. Unlike today, colors worn by the actors meant something. Once an actor walked on stage the audience could reference their clothing color and know their role within the play automatically. But, the actors life was never all fun and games.


          Had to do more than just act. They had to know may more skills that were very respectable but also very difficult to acquire. All Elizabethan actors had to do their own stunts. Many had to learn how to sword fight and have a great memory to remember all the lines of the plays. Another quality that all actors had to have was the ability to over exaggerate feelings and have a loud voice. Their stages were huge and many people sat far away from the stage and there was no microphone to amplify their voice as there is today.




Elizabethan curtained stage        Elizabethan Stage Combat          Elizabethan Stage With Underneath


          A big part of Elizabethan stage techniques is stage props. There was no way to expess actors feelings onto the audience so many props and techniques were created to push the feelings of the actors onto the audience. Props that were commonly used throughout the plays were false swords for sword fights. As mentioned before actors had to be able to have the skill of being able to sword fight and it was a common technique that many people on stage used to portray a fight without actually killing the other opponent.


          More stage techniques were lighting and scenery. Scenery was never a painted backdrop or even black for that matter. It was simply nothing in the backround but there were other things that set the scene. The scene was set by props suchs as beds, tables, chairs, and thrones. Also when a death occurs within a play they use props such as bloody hankerchiefs and fake heads. The blood that was displayed was never human blood, but animal blood because nothing gruesome or effecting a human life was never really done.


     Even though many techniques are used now to enduce a great performance, there was really only one main goal of all the actors in Elizabethan times. This goal was to have everyone in the audience know exactly what was going on thoughout the whole play. Actors had to amplify their voices and also wear their colored clothing and nice fabrics to exemplicate their place in society to get more into their character.

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