The Elizabethan Theater.—Before considering the work of the Elizabethan dramatists, we should know something of the conditions which they had to meet in order to produce plays for the contemporary stage. The courtyard of London inns often served as a playhouse before sufficient regular theaters were built. The stage was in one end of the yard, and the unused ground space in front served as the pit. Two or three tiers of galleries or balconies around the yard afforded additional space for both actors and spectators. These inn yards furnished many suggestions which were incorporated in the early theaters.
The first building in England for the public presentation of plays was known as The Theater. It was built in London in 1576. In 1598 Shakespeare and his associates, failing to secure a lease of the ground on which this building stood, pulled it down, carried the materials across the river, and erected the famous Globe Theater on the Bankside, as the street running along the south side of the Thames was called. In late years a careful study of the specifications (1599) for building the Fortune Theater (see Frontispiece) has thrown much light on the Globe, which is unusually important from its association with Shakespeare. Although the Fortune was square, while the Globe was octagonal, the Fortune was in many essentials modeled after the Globe. A part of the specifications of the Fortune read as follows:—
“...the frame of the saide howse to be sett square and to conteine fowerscore foote of lawful assize everye waie square, without, and fiftie five foote of like assize square, everye waie within ... and the saide frame to conteine three stories in heigth ... [the] stadge shall conteine in length fortie and three foote of lawfull assize, and in breadth to extende to the middle of the yarde of the said howse: the same stadge to be paled in belowe with goode stronge and sufficyent new oken boardes... And the said stadge to be in all other proportions contryved and fashioned like unto the stadge of the wide Playhowse called the Globe.”
[Illustration: RECONSTRUCTED GLOBE THEATER, “SHAKESPEARE’S ENGLAND,” EARL’S COURT, LONDON, 1912. From an original drawing.]
The first part of the twentieth century has made a detailed study of the stage on which the Great Elizabethan plays were acted. G.F. Reynolds says:—
“Most students agree that the ‘typical’ Elizabethan stage consisted of a platform, uncurtained in front, open as well at the sides, carpeted, it is generally said, with rushes, and surrounded with a railing, a space behind this platform closed by a sliding curtain, and a balcony with its own curtains and entrances. There were also a space below the stage reached by trap doors, a dressing room behind the stage, machinery by which characters ascended to and descended from some place above, and in some theaters at least, a ‘heavens,’ or roof over part or all of the stage."