Shakespeare in Context (ENGB33) – January 06, 2010
➢ World Shakespeare/Shakespeare's World
The theatre of the period brought together people who never travelled
Situating ourselves historically
• 1564-1616 (When Shakespeare lived)
• Shakespeare's writing life: 1590 - 1613
• The English Renaissance: early 16 century – mid/late 17 centuryth
• Renaissance is the rebirth of ancient Rome & Greece
• All texts became available again
• So Shakespeare could not have written the way he did if all these classical
literature texts were not available to him
• Renaissance period was an origin for our Modern period.
➢ Renaissance and Early Modern Period can be used interchangeably
➢ KEY CONCEPTS
➢ Theatricality of London Life (pageants, bearbaiting, scaffold exectutions)
The Theatre in Renaissance England
The theatre and theatrically of early modern London life
• Before people began flocking to public open-air theatres, and before they became
controversial sites where all social classes were brought together, before all this,
London was a highly theatrical society
• London from late 16 /early 17 century, gathered in the city streets to observe
Queen Elizabeth moving through the city with her entourage
• Some spectacles lasted for days on some occasions
• *“orange women” aka prostitutes
• Bear-baiting (bears and dogs fighting) happened next to the theatre
• Public executions (standing on scaffolds) were gruesome theatrical events
Shakespeare and the printed book
• The Oxford Shakespeare -- “Norton edition”
➢ The Curtain; The Globe; the date of the 1 London theatre (1570)
• Regular playgoing in London started 1570s with the opening of “The Curtain”
• The theatres were very natural to London people
• Until this, Londoners enjoyed street performances
Capacity of playhouses
Dangers of the transvestite theatre
• Playgoing was also exciting cause it was dangerous
• Most pple detested the idea of new theatres • Playgoing was dangerous from the perspective of authorities because the crowds
looked like potential for riots.
• There was no central for police force & riots could not be controlled easily.
• Queen would have to deal with disorder in society.
• Part of what they worried about was that some plays may say something critical or
radical about the heads of state (Queen, etc) to the audience.
• Plays provided opportunity for gossip to take place and politics may also come into
• Plays themselves can spread new ideas an the order or everyday life could be
rendered topsy turvy for a few hours ( so reality could be distorted when watching
• Puritans disapproved of plays
• They argued on religious grounds saying that for people to act as something that
they are not in real life is deception.
• They also didn't like men dressing up as women (they referred to this as
• They also didn't like the fact that low rank pple could dress up as a king and
easily persuade audience that he is one.
➢ Gentleman; Citizen; Yeomen artificers; laborers
4 ranks: Gentleman; Citizen; Yeomen artificers; laborers.
• Politicians, dukes
• Don't have to work with your hands.
• Can be inherited; born into.
• Have some responsibility to the city
• To become a citizen, you have to have a skillset and have experience in that field for
a couple of years.
• With some land and some economic independence
• He doesn't have to work for somebody else;
• You work with your hands, and you for someone else.
• This is the difference between a labourer and yeomens
• Blue collar; plummer
• These ranks leave out the poor
Place across the ocean; where all the bad things happen. Liberties give liberty to Londoners
Theaters were set outside the jurisdiction of the city. On the way to London Theatres, people
passed brothels, prisons,
➢ Population of London (1520: 60 000; 1550: 120 000; 1600: 200 000)
London was the largest city in England at the time.After Shakespeare's death it was the largest city in Europe. Population was growing at a fast rate. London almost doubles in
population during Shakespeare's lifetime. Many were migrating to London due to
opportunity to make money. Theaters gave people a chance to mix (men & women) as well
as the mixing of English men & women with foreigners allowing for global news to be
Playing going was viewed as doing something idle
Artisans (pple training in a trade) took time off work to see these plays and students were
skipping lectures to see plays. Women were also taking time off their duties to go see the
Pple of very high rank were also going to see these plays, so there was a mixing of rank
which is a critique of the theatre.
➢ Places within the theatre: The Yard; Groundings; Lord's Room
The Yard (reconstructed Globe Theatre)
rebuilt on the Liberties