How Shakespeare plays were originally performed


My name is Lydia Tyndall and I have another Miscellany article for y’all.

William Shakespere was a playwright who lived in Elizabethan England. His plays have become quite famous but have you ever wondered how and where they were originally performed?   

At first Shakespere’s plays were performed at a playhouse in London called the Theatre which was built on leased land. When the lease ran out the Theatre was dismantled and using its lumber a new playhouse called the Globe was built on a different location. 

The Globe had twenty flat sides. There was a sign outside which showed a picture of Hercules holding a globe. Around the edges were three stories of gallery seats which cost two pennies to sit in. In the center was an open area called the Yard where people who had only paid one penny would stand. The stage stuck out into the Yard. Above the stage was a balcony which could be used to represent castle battlements or an upper window. Above the balcony was the heavens, the roof of the stage, the underside of which was painted to look like a starry sky. On top of the heavens were three rooms where cannons were fired to create sound effects. The space beneath the stage was called hell. The roof of the Globe only covered the gallery seats leaving people in the yard exposed to the elements. 

Attending a performance at the Globe was quite different from seeing a play today. Plays were performed in the afternoon because there were no electric lights. If the audience got bored they would hurel rotten fruit at the players. Those standing in The Yard often had a foul stinch. For this reason they were nicknamed stinkards. They were also called groundlings, because they stood on the ground. Groundlings were fond of guzzling tankards of ale while the more sophisticated gallery folk preferred wine. Women called Apple-Wives would wander around the yard and galleries carrying baskets of fruit to sell. Things were different on the stage too. Women were not allowed to perform so boys and young men whose voices had not yet changed played the female parts. They wore dresses and women’s makeup as well as high heels, so that they could walk in a ladylike manner.       

In 1613 a spark originating from a canon used in a play set the Globe on fire and it burned to the ground. It was rebuilt with a tiled roof to make it more fire resistant. After Shakespeare’s death the new Globe was closed and torn down in 1646, because all plays were banned by a strict religious group called the Puritans. After the ban was lifted in 1660 no one bothered rebuilding the Globe, until the 1970s when a replica of the old playhouse was built in almost the same spot. 

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