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Elizabethan England

Costumes and Sets in Shakespeare's Theater

by Starla Brown and Chequita Nelson

Any part of the costume was likely to be decorated with braid, embroidery, pinking (pricking in patterns) slashing, or puffing, or it might be encrusted with pearls, jewels, or spangles or trimmed with lace or artificial flowers. Men's clothing, like that of women, was gorgeous with color and ornamentation. The many parts of male attire contributed to the ornate and colorful effect of the ensemble. Men wore hats even indoors. Feathers and jewels were normal ornaments. A small flat cap like a beret with a narrow brim continued to be worn by craftsman and many citizens of London. Masculine hair styles varied greatly. Sometimes the hair was cut closely at the sides, but it could be brushed up and held with gum, or it might be curled all over the head.

Shakespeare plays were presented during the warmer months in circular, open-air public theaters. The stage was a platform that thrust into the pit- a standing room area for the lower-class; boxes were situated in three galleries around the theater. In the colder months plays were performed in so-called private indoor theaters for a more elite audience. The acting style for the early Elizabethan plays was heroic and exaggerated, like the plays themselves.

One of the most memorable stages of Elizabethan time was the The Globe Theater, a 17th -century English theater in Southwark, London, notable for the initial and contemporary productions of Shakespeare's plays and of the dramatic works of Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and others. The Globe was constructed In 1599 by the famous English actor Richard Burbage, in partnership with Shakespeare and others. The octagonally-shaped outer wall of the theater enclosed a roofless inner pit into which the stage projected; around the pit were three galleries, one above the other, the topmost of which was roofed with thatch. In 1613 a cannon, discharged during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry VIII, set fire to the thatched roof and destroyed the building. The theater was rebuilt in 1614, but 30 years later was razed by Puritans. A brewery now stands on the site.

The stage sometimes known as three-quarter round, was a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience. This form was used for ancient Greek theater in the 20th century. The thrust stage may Accurate information concerning the clothes worn in the earliest production of Shakespeare plays is sadly deficient. Even in a play set in ancient Rome, the actors wore the dress of their own time.

In modern times we draw a distinction between "theatrical " and "ordinary" clothes. We even distinguish between plays that are dressed in the clothing of people of another times or places. We consider these to be "costume plays."

English dress during the age of Shakespeare reflected the vitality and the high points of the period. Although the upper class and the even great merchants of earlier eras had also dressed in rich and colorful fabrics, the sixteenth century saw an elaboration in dress that had nor been common. The names of parts of the Elizabethan wardrobe indicate their foreign origins: French hose, French hood, Venetians, Spanish bonnet.

Elizabethan men and women of the upper class dressed more for display than for comfort, and even their undergarments were designed to contribute to their appearance. The garment worn next to the skin by both sexes was a shirt, though in the case of the women it was called a "smock" and was ankle- length. There is some evidence that men wore drawers called "trousers.''

Elizabethan clothing was very intricate, and the amount of time that must have been consumed in donning costumes with so many independent parts to be tied or pinned together is a marvel to the modern observer. The main feminine garment usually consisted of at least two parts: bodice and skirt (known as a kirtle or petti coat). A triangular piece known as a "stomacher" formed the front section and was joined to the bodice proper at the sides by ties, hooks, or pins.

A variety in materials, color, and ornaments characterized the Elizabethan women's outer garments. have been by a wall or appended to some sort of end stage. The stage generally creates a sense of greater intimacy, as if the performance were occurring in the midst of the auditorium, while still allowing for illusionistic effects through the use of the upstage end and adjacent off-stage.

Elizabethan women delighted in gorgeous dress. But despite the richness of their attire, men frequently outshone them in complexity of costume and the variety of cuts the contemporary fashion provided.

Lastly, the costumes and sets of Shakespeare's time influenced the production of the plays. The costumes aided in the visual affects of the plays as did the lighting and the sound effects. The stages and sets created a realistic setting for a specific location. The different style of stages were changed to the rapid growth of Shakespeare's plays.

Works Consulted

*Cheney, Sheldon. The Theater: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting and Stagecraft. New York: David McKay Company, Inc, 1929.

This book gives great detail of costumes and masks worn in the Elizabethan age. It also talks about the stage makeup and structure of the stages used for the plays.

Chute, Marchette. An Introduction to Shakespeare. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978. Chapter 3.

This chapter in the book contains information about how Shakespeare began his plays and about the makeup of the theaters. It also has photos of stages like those of this period.

Evans, Gareth, and Barbara Lloyd Evans. The Shakespeare Companion. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

On page 87, the book describes the costumes of the Elizabethan period and the acting the performers did during this time.

Fetzer, Scott. "Shakespeare." World Book Encyclopedia . 1985 ed.

Pages 276-278 tell all about the Elizabethan theater. The article also discusses the costumes that the actors and actresses wore.

Keach, William, ed. Adventures in English Literature. Chicago: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.

Pages 74-75 discuss Shakespeare's theaters. It talks about where the plays were held and the stage directions given; it mentions where the musicians and sound-effects people were seated.

*Racinet, Albert. The Historical Encyclopedia of Costumes. New York: Nigel Perrymawn, 1988.

On page 162, the book discusses the nature of costumes for men and women. It also talks about the ancient jewelry worn in the Elizabethan time.

*Source for Visuals.

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