One Day At The Globe...


In Shakespeare’s London, a day’s entertainment often began with a favorite
amusement, bear-baiting. A bear would be captured and chained to a stake inside a pit. A pack of dogs would be released, and they would attack the bear. Spectators placed bets on who would die first. Some bears, such as “old Henry Hunks,” became crowd favorites. many bear pits had to keep up to 120 dogs at a time, just to ensure enough healthy dogs for the day’s “sport.” The bear pits only cost a penny, so they were very popular with the working-class Londoners.
After the bear-baiting was over, another penny purchased admission to a play. Each theatre had its own company of actors. These actors were often supported by a nobleman or a member of the royal family. For example, Shakespeare was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Lord Chamberlain arranged entertainment for the Queen and her court.
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Bear Baiting before the show



When he wasn’t at Court, Shakespeare was busy as part owner of the Globe Theatre. He wrote plays, hired actors, and paid the bills. Since the Globe presented a new play every three weeks, Shakespeare and his actors had little time to rehearse or polish their productions. To complicated matters even more, most actors played more than one part in a play. One troupe used only seven members to play 18 roles.

In order to overcome these problems, actors and managers had to improvise. If one cast member was sick, another took over. It didn’t matter if the character was young or old, male or female. makeup could make anyone look old, and young boys played all the female roles. Most acting companies had three or four young boys who were practically raised in the theatre. They started acting as early as age seven and played female roles until they began shaving. Shakespeare had a favorite boy actor (probably named John Rice) who played Juliet, Cleopatra, and Lady Macbeth. Actresses would not become part of the English theatre for another 50 years.
Most plays were performed in the afternoon. That seems strange to us, but Elizabethan play-goers didn’t have 9-to-5 jobs. One writer noted, “For whereas the afternoon being the idlest time of the day, wherein men who are their own masters (such as Gentlemen of the Court and the number of Captains and Soldiers about London) do wholly bestow themselves upon pleasure...either into gaming, following of harlots, drinking, or seeing a play, is it not better...they should betake themselves to the least [of these evils] which is plays?”
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Actors didn't have a very good reputation, and some of them still don't...



The audience crowded into the theatre at about 2 P.M. The cheapest seats weren’t seats at all, but standing room in front of the stage. This area was occupied by “groundlings” or “penny knaves,” who could be more trouble to the actors than they were worth. If the play was boring, people would throw rotten eggs or vegetables. They talked loudly to their friends, played cards, and even picked fights with each other. One bad performance could cause a riot. One theatre was set on fire by audience members who didn’t like the play.

The stage was open to the sky, so if it rained or snowed, the actors were miserable. The stage was rather bare, with only a few pieces of furniture. Some theatres did add a few special effects. For example, Shakespeare had trapdoors installed at the Globe Theatre. he used them when he needed a ghost to rise up on the stage. Blood was also a big attraction at most theatres. During battle and murder scenes, actors hid “bags” of pigs blood and guts under their stage doublets. When pierced with a sword, the bags spilled out over the stage and produced a realistic gory effect.
In addition to designing sets and finding actors, managers had to deal with the unexpected. In 1575, a group of players put on a pageant for Queen Elizabeth I. Unfortunately one of the actors had drunk too much ale. In the middle of his performance, he pulled off his mask and shouted, “ No Greek God am I, your Grace! Honest Harry Goldingham, that’s me!” Luckily, Queen Elizabeth thought it was a great joke.
Despite all these obstacles, theatre became widely popular. By the time Shakespeare died in 1616, there were more than 30 theatres in and around London. Even today, English theatres are considered some of the best in the world.

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Queen Elizabeth was among the many that attended Shakespeare's plays


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