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Shakespeare’s Theatres and Plays

Shakespeare’s Theatres and Plays

I intend to write my research proposal on Theatres and plays in the Elizabethan Era particularly on the works of William Shakespeare. He lived in England during the era of Queen Elizabeth I and is regarded as the greatest dramatist in the history of English Literature. Theatre became central to Elizabethan social life as drama shifted from a religious to a secular function in society and much of its contribution was made by Shakespeare.

Besides been a dramatist, Shakespeare was also a poet and an actor. Often referred to as England's national poet, Shakespeare holds a significant place in world literature and occupy a major part of literary academics. Much speculation on his personal life and his education, Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and 150 short and long poems which left the whole world praising his works even today. With such recognition, no other dramatist has been performed even remotely as often on the stage as Shakespeare. Much of Shakespearean plays are still relevant in our times as the foundation plots or storyline still chimes with our modern society today.

The structure of Elizabethan playhouse had its own charm in the 16th Century during the Shakespeare's time and was unlike the modern day theatres. The Shakespearean playhouses were open to the public eye from all sides and the scenes would change without any curtains to drop. Most of the time, when the play required a change of place in the next scene, the actors would not leave the stage at all and it would be up to the audience to imagine the change had occurred. However Shakespearean audiences were deprived of eye catching background scenes, they were never disappointed with the extravagant breathtaking clothes that were a certainty at every performance.

The sole purpose of having a Theatre building in England built in 1576 was dedicated  for performances. But eventually The Globe is famously remembered as the theatre in which many Shakespeare's plays were performed. In 1613, it was burned to the ground when the roof caught fire during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry VIII but soon a new second Globe was built in a year.  In modern times several replica of the Globe Theatres have been built around the world, including the new Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, which was completed in 1997. Although the modern Globe Theatre is an inexact imitation of the real Globe - with many of its characteristics based on guesswork   the design, building and use of the new Globe has given much useful information about how an Elizabethan Theatre works and how it affects the performances of actors who use such a stage. Many of his plays were written for the Globe.    Shakespeare began his career not long after the first public playhouses were established in London. A number of Shakespeare's later plays were created for the very different surroundings of the indoor playhouse at Blackfriars. Shakespeare, a player as well as a dramatist, belonged to a company of players. His company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men competed with others, notably the Admiral's Men, for audiences. During summers the plays were performed in the open air Theatres like the Globe and the winter performances would be produced in the indoor Playhouses like Blackfriars.

In most of his plays women's roles were played by boys or young men in the all-male casts because it was considered immoral for women to be on the stage and considered improper and socially unacceptable. Therefore, boys were the best substitute for playing female parts. Boys enacted because their voices had not yet turned due to puberty. The boy actors who took the female roles were also paid the least of all actors. Women were not allowed to perform in public theatres in England until 1660. Shakespeare himself even acted in some of his own plays, but specifically in which play is still not known.

Critics suggest that Shakespeare played relatively minor parts in his own plays, mainly the parts of older men. Richard Burbage was the leading actor in the Lord Chamberlain's - King's Men, playing the dramatic leads, including Richard III, Hamlet, King Lear and Othello.

Richardson argues that Shakespeare's plays were considered old fashioned, since their female parts were written for boys playing supporting roles, while the more modern playwrights wrote specifically for female actors and audiences with more interest in leading female parts.  Richardson particularly has discussed Miranda, Isabella, Beatrice, Portia, and Cordelia. But he asserted that Shakespeare's female characters were full of distinguished qualities with peculiar and appropriated features.

 Isabella in 'Measure For Measure' is particularly distinguished by intellectual ability as Shakespeare portrays her as very pure and strictly moral. Critics have held diabolically opposed views of Isabella's character. On one hand they see her as one of Shakespeare's strongest and best female characters. On other hand they see her as self-righteous and hypocritical. They point out that she seems little concerned by her brother's crime but is too horrified of committing the same transgression herself even to save her brother's life. Isabella has been most strongly criticized is her seeming lack of sympathy for Claudio when he pleads with her to save him by giving in to Angelo's desire. She leaves him in a rage, never to speak to him again in the play. Shakespeare Portrays Miranda the only female character in the play 'The Tempest' as perfectly unsophisticated so delicately refined, that she is all but ethereal. Miranda possesses the elementary attributes of womanhood, but each of these stands in her with a distinct and peculiar grace. Miranda also serves as the ultimate fantasy for any male who (like Ferdinand) is a bachelor. Richardson asserted that female characters contribute to the amusement and convenience but can never be the companions of men.

In contrasting to this there are several female characters throughout Shakespeare's plays that represent strong, intelligent and independent beings. Through their discourse, these women often show a mental capacity that is not only equal to men, but at times they were also shown as superior. Shakespeare's idea of women was very much in contrary to that of Elizabethan society as it was believed women to be not only inferior to men, but also property of men. It is for this reason that Shakespeare used disguises and humour in order to allow his female characters their freedom of speech and their right to refuse the constraints imposed upon them by men in such a society. Women characters like Rosalind of 'As You Like It', Viola of 'Twelfth Night', Beatrice of 'Much Ado About Nothing' and Katherine of 'Taming of the Shrew'. These four women share many of the same character traits, including: adaptability, intelligence and self-awareness. They also use their linguistic wit in order to argue with men. Thus ability to express oneself with such clarity proves the idea of these women's self-awareness.  

Women characters have always made a remarkable presence on Shakespeare's stage. Even though it is clear that Shakespeare believed that women were able to be the equals of men, he was unable to express it in a realistic context. Though he allowed his strong female characters to be the center of the action and allowed them lengthy speeches and numerous lines of dialogue, but only under certain context. Each actress have displayed her own unique perspective in accordance to the plot. To some, Ophelia is a love-sick victim destroyed by Hamlet's rejection and the death of her father; to others she is a sharp and independent heroine who is driven to madness by her own powers of foresight. Lady Macbeth, the strong headed witty wife of Macbeth, who influenced rather dominated her husband decision to perform the heinous act of killing the king of Scotland for the lust of power. Critics have termed her as anti-mother figure; the witch who lacks all humanity and hence as a reader we see her ambition, strength of will, cruelty, and dissimulation. However in the later part of the play she is unable to cope up with the sense of guilt which lead to killing herself. The pride and arrogance of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra as portrayed by Shakespeare is the most astonishing power, and truth, and skill in feminine nature  bewilders our fancy from the beginning to the end of the drama.

William Shakespeare wrote many tragedy plays throughout his career and one of his earliest plays was the tragedy Titus Andronicus, but his most beloved tragedies are the ones written between 1601 and 1608 which were Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth and these typically followed the Aristotelian definition of tragedy. Plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Antony & Cleopatra and Othello are considered as love tragedies. He also mastered the art of writing historical plays capturing the lives of English Kings. They included a lot of fighting. In these plays, there were mostly men acting because in History plays there was a lot of fighting and deep, loud voices needed and it normally includes a character being royal. Shakespeare was a contemporary of the Queen Elizabeth I, the last monarch in the house of Tudor so his plays are often regarded as Tudor propaganda. Edward III, Henry IV, Richard II, Henry VIII fell under the historical categories. Another genre was known as tragicomedy; a serious play with happy ending in which a tragic plotline with a happy ending involved the reuniting of separated family members. 'Love's Labour's Lost' and the 'Midsummer Night's Dream' are probably both Court Comedies, and have the superficiality of emotion which was associated with Court Comedy.

The content of Shakespeare plays offers the reader an enjoyable literary encounter, hence his works have stood the test of time. His characters and stories reveal universal truths about the human condition in a way we can all relate to. Majority of Shakespeare's works were written on such basic human themes that will remain for all time and must not be allowed to slip into tragic oblivion of old age. Shakespeare was quiet forward for his time, especially in an age when women were not even allowed to perform on stage. Shakespeare created such accurate portrayal of human truth that is still feasible in human society. Shakespeare's Plays are still relevant today. His plays continue to perform not because Shakespeare is famous, but because his characters give a picturesque representation to the readers. While they may be kings and queens and princess, they struggle with the same issue that many of us still undergo it and have very multidimensional human characterization on stage which people can associate with.

The plays of Shakespeare's are timeless, as proved by the fact that many of the themes which he deals with come up again and again in modern literature, in theatres, in movies and in real life.

Shakespeare had a number of contemporaries some of whom are quiet talented, but it is his works which has endured to be performed and celebrated for centuries. No other playwright has enjoyed such widespread and huge acclaim.

 In 1642, the English playhouses and theatres were closed down (and often dismantled for building materials) as the English Civil War began. With the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, theatre returned and so were Shakespeare's plays, then with both male and female performers.  The first recorded performance of an actress occurred in December 1660, although we're not sure of her name; she appeared as Desdemona in Othello. Theatres were back with a new definition. In highly decorated and elaborated indoor theatres the plays took on a very different shape. Theatres of the Restoration were big and grand, and somewhat different from Shakespeare's Globe.

There have been endless adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, sometimes they are set in the past and sometimes in a more modern period. He did not write his plays to be published. He wrote his plays for his audiences only.

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