Following the common practice of the day, William Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed solely by male actors; boys played the female parts. There was no curtain, and only a few necessary pieces of scenery, such as a throne or a rock. Shakespeare’s acting company, known first as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and later as the King’s Men, put on plays in any number of places—from the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I to churches and guildhalls in the countryside. The company most frequently performed in its own theaters.
The original theater in which the Lord Chamberlain’s Men staged their plays was known simply as The Theatre; it is believed to have been the first London playhouse. From 1599 onward, the company performed in the outdoor theater most associated with Shakespeare’s name—the Globe. Later, they also staged plays at a private indoor theater, the Blackfriars, while continuing to operate the Globe.
The Folger Shakespeare Library houses an intimate indoor stage called the Elizabethan Theatre, which is regularly used for plays, concerts, readings, and educational programs. The space is not intended to duplicate any particular theater of Shakespeare’s day. Instead, its rafters, multiple levels, and plaster-and-timber walls evoke the London innyards where plays were also sometimes staged. Overhead, a floating cloth suggests the open sky.
London Playhouses and Other Sites |
Inside the Theaters
Staging and Performance |