Introduction to William Shakespeare


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An introduction to Shakespeare and the Globe theatre for 14-16 year olds.

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Introduction to William Shakespeare

  1. 1. William Shakespeare Introducing the Bard and the London Theater Scene of his Day
  2. 2. William Shakespeare 1564-1616  It is said that Shakespeare was born at Stratford-upon- Avon on April 23, 1564.  He had three brothers and four sisters and was the oldest child of the family.  He married Anne Hathaway in 1582: he was 18 and she was 26. They had 3 kids by the time he was 21.  He wrote his first play around 1591, fifteen years after the opening of the first theatre in London (The Red Lion).  Shakespeare owned two theaters and wrote at least 38 plays. He was an actor before he was a writer.
  3. 3. Shakespeare’s Plays: Tragedies, Comedies, and Histories  Tragedies: The fall of a great man. Not by fatal “tragic” flaw, but through choice of action that puts him out of his comfort zone (Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth).  Comedies: Not simply comical, in the modern sense, but often tensions between traditional roles—male vs. female, poor vs. rich, old vs. young—often ending in marriage, the revision or restoration of tradition (Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It).  Histories: Based on the lives of English Kings (Henry IV, Henry V, Richard III).
  4. 4. Shakespeare’s Company  The Lord Chamberlain’s men formed in 1594, included Shakespeare and Richard Burbage (the most popular actor of his day).  James I made them his company, and they were then called the King’s Men—the best and most successful acting troupe in London.  Acting companies traditionally had 10-15 members who acted and managed the plays. Young boys performed the roles of women.
  5. 5. LONDON & THE THEATER IN SHAKESPEARE’S DAY  The theater was the most widely available entertainment to which people of every class had access.  Professional theater life was considered a fringe culture, existing on the margins of society. Actors were like rock stars.  Actors were considered homeless vagabonds and, as such, were subject to arrest (like rock stars).  Plays were often acted out in any space available; thus the income for actors and playwrights was undependable and rarely enough to live on.  Wealthy aristocrats, who enjoyed drama, would support acting companies with their own money—actors under the care of these “Lords” could not be arrested for their vagrant lifestyle.
  6. 6. BANKSIDE The Entertainment District: Taverns, Theatres & Prostitutes, Oh My!  Bankside London, on the Thames River, was a notorious area of the city.  The Globe Theatre was situated in this area where people went out to drink and gamble, and where prostitution flourished.  The theatre was not a symbol of high culture in those days, it was bawdy and violent entertainment, considered by many to be full of dangerous ideas and suggestive sexual themes.
  7. 7. BANKSIDE
  8. 8. The Globe: The Glory of the Bank  Based on design of The Rose theatre.  First London theatre built and owned by an acting company (1599).  All the decisions made in its construction were made by the actors and writers who would use it as a performance space.  Shakespeare plays first performed at the Globe: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth.
  9. 9. THE GLOBE THEATRE A Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Theater Built in 1996
  10. 10. On Stage at the Globe  http://www.shakesp earesglobeonscree
  11. 11. The Audience  There were only two doors, and the Globe held up to 3,000 people.  People from all classes visited the theatre on a regular basis.  Cheapest seats cost one penny; “groundlings” stood in the yard.  For an extra penny, you got a “cushion seat” in the gallery.  For extra money, the view was obstructed; however, in those days people didn’t go to see a play, they went to hear a play.
  12. 12. Stage Effects  Both the stage and the heavens (the area above the stage) held trap doors.  Sheep and cow blood was used for fight scenes. A small bag could be filled and popped at the right moment for the right effect.  Gunpowder was used for musket fire and special controlled explosions.
  13. 13. The Threat of Theatre  The puritans, and city authorities, did not like play going.  Only the support of the King or Queen kept the theatre open.  The theatre represented freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and openly played with gender roles and human sexuality.
  14. 14. A Tale of Three Globes  Original Globe burnt down (6/29/1613) during the third performance of Henry VIII after cannons firing blanks set fire to the thatch roof.  The King’s Men (Shakespeare’s acting company) rebuilt the Globe in 1614. This Globe was torn down in 1644.  Modern Globe was built by an American named Sam Wanamaker, using Elizabethan construction techniques, opened in 1997.