We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

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We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:08 am

First page of the old ATU Shakespeare's theatre thread:

SEE BELOW


Last edited by eddie on Sat Mar 03, 2012 6:28 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:40 pm

^

Thread replicated below in the event of link expiry:

**********************************************************************


1596 sketch of the Swan Theatre, London by Johannes de Witt.

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:44 pm

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

The Elizabethan Theatre.

Value of John de Witt’s drawing of the Swan.


It is impossible not to turn back with curiosity to the drawing of the Swan theatre, the earliest extant view of the stage of the period. The platform it shows is supported near the front on two rough, solid beams, concealed by no “paling.” Half-way, or rather more than halfway, towards the back, two very solid turned pillars, resting on heavy square bases and with capitals above, stand on the stage, at a distance from each other of nearly its whole breadth, and support the front edge of a pentroof, which seems to project over the stage to a much smaller distance than the position of the pillars would indicate. This discrepancy is but one of many difficulties raised by the drawing. Behind the pillars, under the pentroof and right at the back of the stage, rises a wall with two large arched doors, each about halfway between the centre of the back wall and its outer extremity. On the wall, between the doors, the draughtsman has written mimorum aedes, indicating that this is the “actors’ house.” At some distance above the tops of the doors, the wall is broken by a gallery, in which sit what may be musicians, or actors taking part in the play, but what certainly seem to be spectators; and, above the gallery again, the wall rises to the point where the upper edge of the pentroof starts. Above the level of the pentroof, there appears another story, of equal or nearly equal width with the wall of the tirehouse. There are two windows in it, facing the auditorium, and, in a little doorway open in the side, on the (spectator’s) right, a man, either holding a flag or blowing a trumpet, stands on the upper edge of the pentroof (which must be supposed to turn the corner of the building on both sides). The roof of this upper story, apparently, is thatched, and from the summit on the (spectator’s) right flies the flag bearing the sign of the house, a swan. Near the front of the stage, an actor in woman’s dress is sitting on a bench; behind the bench stands another, also in woman’s dress: while, from the corner on the (spectator’s) left, an actor, bearing a long spear or staff, is striding along the front of the stage towards the centre. There are no hangings of any kind visible in any part of the drawing.

Some features in the drawing may be recognised from other descriptions as correct—the existence of the tirehouse, the turret, the waving flag showing that it is a play day, the blowing of the trumpet showing that it is a play day, the blowing of the trumpet showing that the play is about to begin (though the draughtsman has shown the house as empty). Further examination raises a number of difficulties.

In the first place, this stage is not movable; or, if it can be removed, those two heavy pillars supporting the small pentroof must rest, not on the visible bases on the stage, but on the ground below. If the stage is moved, the pillars will be in the way of any exhibition that is taking place, and it is difficult to imagine that these pretentious bases are shams. We are forced to conclude that the stage of the Swan was not movable. Again, how far are these pillars intended to be from the back wall of the stage, the front wall of the tirehouse? The drawing shows them at the very east a third of the way down the stage; yet the perspective is so faulty that the pentroof seems to project at the most a few feet forward from the wall. Granted that the pillars are right and the pentroof wrong, the latter still does not correspond at all closely with the “heavens” or roof, which, in the Hope, as we know from the contract, was to extend all over the stage, and which is known to have existed in other playhouses of the period. The matter is trifling at first sight, but is of importance because, mainly on the position of the pillars in this drawing, a whole theory of the production of plays has been formed. 28 To clear the ground, it may be said at once that there is no occurrence before 1640 of anything which can fairly be considered evidence of a front curtain on a public stage (though, doubtless, it was in use at court and university performances), and that the theory of the common use of a front curtain is no longer tenable. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that, somewhere on the stage, there were hangings of silk, or wool, or “painted cloth,” sometimes, apparently, when tragedies were acted, of black. Of hangings painted in perspective to represent the scene of the play, there is no mention in a public or private playhouse, though they were in use at court and university performances. We hear of actors peeping through before the play begins, and of an impatient audience throwing things at the hangings. Stage directions printed in the playbooks, though rendered an untrustworthy guide by the impossibility of telling whether they were drawn up by the author or manager, or by the printer or some other unauthorised person, and whether they applied to performance at court, in a public playhouse, a private playhouse, or a provincial hall or innyard, seem to show that the public stage of the day required at least three divisions: namely, the front part of the stage; a back part, commonly used for interiors, which could be disclosed by the drawing of curtains, and which, when disclosed, could, of course, absorb the front part and occupy the entire stage; and, thirdly, a place above to serve for upper chambers, balconies like Juliet’s, galleries, towers and so forth. Arguing from this and from the position of the pillars in the drawing of the stage of the Swan, the theory referred to supposes a regular course of “alternation” throughout an entire play, much like that which was followed by each act of an oldfashioned melodrama, in which the front scene was used while the back scene was being “set,” the author’s duty, in the days of Elizabeth as in our own, being to contrive a scene of some sort, which the plot might or might not require, to fill up the time needed by the “tire-men” or sceneshifters. Accordingly, the theory mentioned supposes a curtain or “traverse” hung between the pillars shown in the drawing of the Swan, that is, at about one third, or half, of the depth 29 of the stage which should conceal from spectators the preparations for the next scene going on behind it.


Note 28. Chiefly by Brodmeier, C., Die Shakespeare-Bühne nach den alten Bühnenanweisungen, Weimar, 1904. It has been exhaustively criticised by Reynolds, G. F., Some principles of Elizabethan staging, Chicago, 1905.


Note 29. Some confusion might be avoided if the word “depth” were consistently used for the measurement from the front of the stage to the back, and “width” for that from side to side.






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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:47 pm



Engraving of the Swan theatre, Southwark, London 1616.

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:49 pm


Location of theatres in Elizabethan London. Note that, as a trangressive activity, the playhouses were banished to the outer fringes of the City.

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:52 pm


Henry Peacham's sketch of a performance of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the only contemporary representation we have of what one of WS' plays would have actually looked like on stage.


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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:53 pm

The de Witt sketch (above) might give the impression that the Elizabethan stage was a bare, austere arena but a glance at the diary of Philip Henslowe, a contemporary of WS who managed a rival theatre, shows that this was not the case. Here's a brief essay on the subject:

SHAKESPEARE's PROPS

Eric Hart, April 24, 2009

As yesterday (April 23) was William Shakespeare’s unofficial birthday, I thought I’d write a bit about props and Shakespeare. At the Public Theatre here in New York City, we’re starting to gear up for Shakespeare in the Park, starting with Twelfth Night. It will feature Anne Hathaway (the Bride Wars star, not Shakespeare’s wife).

A lot of what we know about props in Shakespearean times comes from Henslowe’s Diary, which incidentally, never once mentions William Shakespeare. It does, however, contain a detailed record of the day-to-day theatre business of Philip Henslowe, a theatrical entrepreneur involved in nearly all aspects of the Elizabethan stage. Included in his diary is an inventory of “all the properties for my Lord Admiral’s Men, the 10 of March 1598:
<BLOCKQUOTE>


Item, 1 rock, 1 cage, 1 tomb, 1 Hell mouth… 1 bedstead.
Item, 8 lances, 1 pair of stairs for Phaethon.
Item, 1 globe, & 1 golden sceptre; 3 clubs
Item, 1 golden fleece, 2 racquets, 1 bay tree.
Item, 1 lion’s skin, 1 bear’s skin; Phaethon’s limbs, & Phaethon’s chariot, & Argus’s head.
Item, Iris’s head, & rainbow; 1 little altar. . .
1 ghost’s gown; 1 crown with a sun.”</BLOCKQUOTE>


You can see many typical props here. Furniture, weapons, and set decoration all appear on the list. Heads are another common prop made by prop shops. The list also contains what we would consider small set pieces. As Elizabethan theatre had no “background” scenery, it made sense for a set of stairs to be made and maintained by the same person or people who made and kept track of the bedstead.

It is a fairly straightforward props list. When you read a Shakespeare play, the stage directions will be pretty explicit about what props his actors probably used. In Romeo and Juliet, when it is written that Juliet “snatches Romeo’s dagger”, it most certainly meant she (technically, he) grabbed a prop dagger, rather than miming the action. The style and construction of the dagger is less certain, though many scholars contend it would have been an Elizabethan dagger, rather than a more historically or geographically accurate one. In other words, the dagger in Julius Caesar would have been the same dagger as in Romeo and Juliet, which would have been similar to the daggers carried by the audience.

Perhaps one of the most problematic stage directions is The Winter’s Tale‘s “exit pursued by a bear”. Without uncovering new archaeological evidence, we will probably never know whether a real bear was used or not. But for the rest of the props, between Henslow’s diary, and de Witt’s drawing of the Swan theatre (pictured below), we get a good overview of props in Shakespeare’s time: weapons, furniture, minor set decoration and small set pieces, and fake (I hope) body parts

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:55 pm


Enlargement of 1612 engraving of Shakespeare's Globe theatre. In the background stands the rival bear-baiting arena.


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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:57 pm



The interior of Shakespeare's Globe theatre must have owed a lot to earlier design models based on performances in Elizabethan inn yards.

From Wiki:

Layout of the Boar's Head theatre, Whitechapel:

As Berry explains, the Boar's Head differed from many other playhouses of the time in that it "was not a single free-standing building, like the Globe, Fortune, and others, but, except for the stage, mostly a scheme of additions and alterations to existing buildings originally meant for very different uses." These other sections included various lodgings, stables, gardens, barns, and, thankfully for its customers, a privy. Interestingly, the Boar's Head featured a square playing area in an age of polygonal playhouses (such as the Globe, the Swan and the Rose.

Even after its expansion, the Boar's Head remained a comparatively small theatre for its time, with only two levels of galleries on the east side, and one each on the north and south sides. (For comparison, the Swan and Fortune theatres each had three levels of galleries.)

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 9:58 pm

You can see a basic similarity of lay-out in the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe theatre which stands today in Bankside, Southwark close to the site of Shakespeare's original Globe:



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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 10:00 pm

Compare the reconstructed Globe with the engraving of the original theatre (above):



Not bad.


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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 10:01 pm


Where Shakespeare's Globe theatre once stood (view from Park Street). The black line in the centre is the foundation line.


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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 10:03 pm



I wonder what play young Mr de Witt was sketching. Any suggestions?

Our Dutch friend seems to have had more dosh than most students; this drawing must have been made from one of the more expensive seats in the upper tier.


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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 10:05 pm



Location of theatres in Elizabethan London. Note that, as a trangressive activity, the playhouses were banished to the outer fringes of the City.


You'll note that the single exception is the Blackfriars theatre, acceptable to the City authorities because it was an indoors venue where boy actors (Hamlet's "little eyasses") performed for a monied and discerning audience.

A purer form of Theatre.

No groundlings. No riff-raff.

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 10:07 pm

Love's labour's located: how I plotted Shakespeare's London with an iPhone app

My new app uses Apple geo-positioning to guide you around the playwright's favourite haunts and sites of significance – even when they're long disappeared


'This wooden O' ... external view of of Shakespeare's Globe theatre on London's Bankside. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

If you walk from Tate Modern on London's Bankside towards Blackfriars bridge there is a modern office block on Hopton Street. In Shakespeare's time it boasted the biggest theatre in town, holding 3,000 people – larger than any West End venue today. It wasn't the Globe, the Rose or the Hope, all 500 yards farther east down the river. It was the Swan. This venue has long been familiar to Shakespeare buffs – a drawing by a Dutch visitor of its stage is the only picture extant of what an Elizabethan stage actually looked like – but largely unknown to the thousands who walk by each day. There is not even a plaque to commemorate it, though there is a sign reading "Falcon Point", to mark the spot where, facing the Swan, stood the Falcon Inn – where Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and other actors and writers would almost certainly have caroused.

In Stratford, Shakespeare's birthplace, you can't move for memorabilia, but in London – where he spent his working life – he is curiously neglected. The one shining exception is the reconstructed Globe, for which we have to thank the dogged determination of an American, the actor Sam Wanamaker.

It was mainly for this reason that I have tried to employ modern technology, in the form of a mobile phone, to remind us of these buried memories of the playwright. An app I've just published for the iPhone/iPad and iPod Touch – called for obvious reasons Shakespeare's London – uses the phone's geo-positioning function to tell you how many yards you are from, for instance, the taverns he surreptitiously mentioned in his plays (such as "the Elephant" in Twelfth Night), the Silver Street house he lodged in with a Huguenot wigmaker or the numerous theatres where he acted or where his plays were performed. If you click on an icon on the map, up comes a commentary plus reproductions of old prints and maps.

The number of active theatres in early-modern London, nearly all with links to Shakespeare, was amazing considering they were supported by a city with barely 200,000 inhabitants. Assuming reasonable occupancy rates, it would appear that a substantial proportion of the capital's population went to plays each month at these three places alone. And these "dedicated" playhouses were not the only theatres. When I first became interested in the subject some years ago, I had no idea of the existence of the Blackfriars theatre, east of New Bridge Street, which I passed every day on my way to work at the Guardian's Farringdon offices and where Shakespeare's company performed in the evenings and during the winter when the Globe was closed.

Nor did I know much about of the string of inn and theatres along Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate, leading on to Shoreditch, home to the Theatre and the Curtain, where Shakespeare's plays were first performed when he came to London. Nowadays they have only one plaque between them, which you can see if you stretch your neck and peer above Foxton's estate agents in Curtain Road, Shoreditch. If you go around to the back you'll see a blue door behind which recent excavations uncovered remains of the Theatre, the first dedicated venue with its own company to be built in London.

The prize for the first permanent theatre of any kind in Britain probably belongs to the Red Lion in Mile End, not far from the Boar's Head in Whitechapel (not to be confused with Falstaff's watering hole of the same name in Eastcheap). One of the biggest surprises was to find that Shakespeare's troupe acted at Newington Butts in June 1592 – exactly where Elephant and Castle now is. It seems clear that, in Shakespeare's time, going to the theatre was seen – by people of all classes – as the social equivalent of going to the football, watching EastEnders, drinking and clubbing, all rolled into one.

• Shakespeare's London is in the Apple app store, priced £1.79p.

Posted by Victor Keegan Wednesday 19 January 2011 16.36 GMT guardian.co.uk

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: We'd know little about Shakespeare's theatre if it weren't for a dutch student's diary

Post  eddie on Sat Mar 03, 2012 6:26 pm

K is for Jan Kott

The largely forgotten Polish professor, who drew a connection between Shakespeare and 20th-century European theatre, had a huge impact on modern-day theatrical culture

Michael Billington

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 21 February 2012 18.00 GMT


Viscerally exciting … Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Does anyone still read Jan Kott? For those unfamiliar with the name, Kott (1914–2001) was a Polish professor whose book Shakespeare Our Contemporary, published in English in 1964, had a profound impact on theatre. Reading it again today, I am stunned by how much of it has been absorbed into our theatrical culture. Although we live in an age of great Shakespearean scholarship, represented by figures such as James Shapiro, Jonathan Bate and Stephen Greenblatt, I can't think of anyone today who influences production in quite the same way as Kott.

Partly, that stemmed from Kott's experience of living in a Poland that was either under Nazi occupation or Soviet domination. As Peter Brook wrote in the introduction to the English edition, Kott is the only Elizabethan scholar to assume that his readers "will at some point or other have been woken by the police in the middle of the night." But Kott also, crucially, saw a direct connection between Shakespeare and the modern European drama of Brecht, Beckett and Durrenmatt. His famous essay, Shakespeare or Endgame, drew provocative parallels between King Lear and Beckett's compressed masterpiece and suggested that in both cathartic tragedy had been replaced by a sense of the grotesque: this bore immediate fruit in Brook's production of Lear at Stratford in 1962, in which Gloucester's attempted suicide, in hurling himself off a non-existent cliff, seemed violently absurd in the Beckettian sense.

But isn't all this old hat? Don't we now accept as a matter of course Kott's arguments that A Midsummer Night's Dream is packed with animal eroticism, that Shakespeare's histories are about grand mechanistic forces, and that Hamlet is a deeply political play about surveillance, fear and corruption that ends with a foreign military invasion? Maybe. But it's interesting how these points still, subconsciously or not, affect productions. Even in Filter's madcap version of The Dream, currently at London's Lyric Hammersmith, Theseus's reference to conquering Hippolyta with his "sword" acquires a Kottian phallic association. Michael Boyd's RSC "Shakespeare history" cycle in 2008-09 demonstrated impersonal forces at work in its progress from late medieval England to the modern world. And I've seen countless productions of Hamlet, from Richard Eyre's and Nicholas Hytner's in the UK to Yuri Lyubimov's Russian version (its set dominated by a terrifyingly mobile white curtain), based on eavesdropping and espionage.

Anyone who doubts Kott's continuing relevance should first read his essay on Coriolanus and then go and see Ralph Fiennes's viscerally exciting new film. Kott shrewdly analyses the contradictions in the character of Coriolanus and the play. As Kott says: "Coriolanus wanted to play the role of an avenging deity while in the scenario of history he was given only the role of traitor. All that is left to him is self-destruction." In Fiennes's reimagining, set in the modern world of Balkan conflict, we see exactly how the hero, who is persuaded he can transfer his military invincibility into the political sphere, is finally shown to be helpless against the power of history.

I suspect Kott goes a bit far when he argues that it is the cinema, not the theatre, that best conveys the "fluency, homogeneity and rapidity of action" of Shakespeare's plays. But I would put the argument the other way around: it's not that I primarily want to see Shakespeare in the cinema, but I certainly crave to see the cinema in Shakespeare. We expect any Shakespeare production to possess the fluidity and speed of a good movie.

That's yet another reason why I find Rupert Goold the most exciting Shakespearean director around today. His celebrated 2007 Macbeth, with Patrick Stewart in the lead, was not only stuffed with filmic references but possessed the edge-of-the-seat-quality we associate with a vintage horror movie. And Goold's Merchant of Venice, which the RSC has criminally allowed to disappear from the repertoire after it closed last year, took us into a Las Vegas-style world of casinos and gameshows that I suspect Kott would have appreciated. If we still see Shakespeare as our contemporary, we have a largely forgotten Polish theatrical scholar to thank for it.

Required reading: Shakespeare Our Contemporary by Jan Kott (Methuen, 1964)

Life and times: Michael Kustow's obituary for the Guardian

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