Histories, Tragedies and Comedies written by the
greatest playwright of them all - William Shakespeare. The popularity of
the theater reached people from all walks of life - from Royalty to the
Nobility and the Commoners. What was a day out at the Elizabethan theater
like for the audiences? Where did they sit? How much did it cost? What did
they eat? What were the amenities like? How did illiterate members of the
public know what plays were being presented?
London Theatregoers - The
London play goers loved the Theatre. It was their opportunity to see the
great plays and each other.
Elizabethan Audience Capacity - the theatres could hold 1500 people and
this number expanded to 3000 with the people who crowded outside the
Royalty - Queen Elizabeth I
loved watching plays but theses were generally performed in indoor
playhouses for her pleasure. She would not have attended the plays
performed at the amphitheatres
The Nobles - Nobles would
have paid for the better seats in the Lord's rooms paying 5d for the
The Commoners called the
Groundlings or Stinkards would have stood in the theatre pit and paid 1d
entrance fee. They put 1 penny in a box at the theatre entrance - hence
the term 'Box Office'
The Box Office - the prices
were determined by the comfort of the seats
Special effects were also a
spectacular addition at the Elizabethan theaters thrilling the audiences
with smoke effects, the firing of a real canon, fireworks (for
dramatic battle scenes) and spectacular 'flying' entrances from the
rigging in the 'heavens'.
The Facilities ranged from
basic to non existent.
- Flags, Crests and Mottos -
Advertising - Flags were erected on the day of the performance which
sometimes displayed a picture advertising the next play to be performed.
Colour coding was used to advertise the type of play to be performed - a
black flag meant a tragedy , white a comedy and red a history. A crest
displaying Hercules bearing the globe on his shoulders together with the
motto "Totus mundus agit histrionem" ( the whole world is a playhouse )
was displayed above the main entrance of the Globe Theater. This phrase
was slightly re-worded in the William Shakespeare play As You Like It -
"All the world’s a stage" which was performed at the Globe Theater.
The Globe Theatre
The Elizabethan general public (the Commoners) referred to as
groundlings would pay 1 penny to stand in the 'Pit' of the Globe Theater.
The gentry would pay to sit in the galleries often using cushions for
comfort. Rich nobles could watch the play from a chair set on the side
of the Globe stage itself. Theatre performances were held in the
afternoon, because, of course, there was limited artificial lighting.
Men and women attended plays, but often the prosperous women would wear
a mask to disguise their identity. The plays were extremely popular and
attracted vast audiences to the Elizabethan Theatres. There were no
toilet facilities and people relieved themselves outside. Sewage was
buried in pits or disposed of in the River Thames. The audiences only
dropped during outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which was unfortunately
an all too common occurrence during the Elizabethan era. This happened
in 1593, 1603 and 1608 when all Elizabethan theatres were closed due to
the Bubonic Plague (The Black Death).