Elizabethan Theatre


"The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life"
~ Oscar Wilde

Elizabethan Music

external image viol-tenor_guitar-held_Elizabethan-consort_deta.jpg

It was during the Elizabethan era that music became a very popular form of entertainment. One reason for its great popularity stems from the fact that Queen Elizabeth herself was capable of playing musical instruments, and she encouraged others to play as well (Lad). Music at home centered around the dinner table, and most homes had at least one instrument.

According to Linda Alchin, music of the Elizabethan era can be broken into five categories: church music, town music, theatre music, street music and court music. The church music was known as choral polyphony, and many of the hymns written during this time are still sung today. Town musicians came to be known as Waits, and they performed at community events for the other townspeople. Theatre music added to the overall popularity of theatre itself. For a theatre musician, their physical placement on the stage was of upmost importance. Alchin also states that with Shakespeare’s appearance in 1556, theatre music became even more admired. Street music consisted of what was known as traveling minstrels, who were often heard at fairs. They, however, were looked at unfavorably, and thus eventually replaced. The court music consisted of songs and instruments performed for the court of Queen Elizabeth. This is where many new instruments came into being.

Popular instruments of this time consisted of four main types. These included string, percussion, keyboard and wind instruments. Perhaps the most popular of the stringed instruments was the Lute, which is considered to be the earliest form of the guitar.

Here is a video performance of "Greensleeves," played on an Elizabethan Lute

Another popular string instrument was the viol, similar to the violin. Wind instruments consisted of instruments such as the flute, recorder, and trumpet. Percussion instruments could include the drums, cymbal and tambourine. Lastly, keyboard instruments consisted of the spinet, the harpsichord, the church organ and the virginals (Lad).
external image Minstrels_instruments.jpg

According to an article written on wikipedia, since music became a much appreciated art form during the 16th century, many new composers came to be known. WIlliam Byrd was perhaps the most well-known composer to come out of the Elizabethan era. He was said to be Queen Elizabeth's favorite composer, and produced numerous vocal and church music ("Music in the Elizabethan era").

Music in the Elizabethan era was one of great importance and accomplishments. The impact of music during this time is still very much apparent today in not only the realm of theatre, but the world as well.

Summary Of Scholarly Essay

The scholarly essay I found to be most helpful while doing research for my group’s wiki page was, “The Macbeth Music,” by Madeleine Doran. Although Doran focuses on Shakespeare’s Macbeth in her essay, the information she provides gives insight into how music played a role in Elizabethan theatre as a whole. Doran discusses how it is not simple to classify what makes a play a musical. She states, “The effect must depend in part on how much our ear is struck by the varying cadences of the blank verse, the verbal recurrences and echoes in language, and in part on the whole shaping of the play—its returning themes, its interplay of voices” (153). She talks about how the use of alliteration and other literary devices contribute to “an undertone of sound to the thought” (160). Doran goes on to explain how this creates “small music within a passage” that ultimately contributes to and “strengthens the larger thematic music”(160). Overall, Madeleine Doran’s essay was beneficial to my research because it discussed the elements of music that are not necessarily obvious in a play, but that are still very relevant.

Compiled by: Marre Taylor

Elizabethan Costumes

Costume Room

The English Sumptuary Law of 1574:

" Note also that the meaning of this order is not to prohibit a servant from wearing any cognizance of his master, or henchmen, heralds, pursuivants at arms; runners at jousts, tourneys, or such martial feats, and such as wear apparel given them by the Queen, and such as shall have license from the Queen for the same."

*The Elizabethan Era was a time in history where people wore clothes that dictated their status, position, and rank in society. It went even as far as having a law that stated that you may not wear clothes above your class or you shall be punished by the Queen. Punishment included; fines, loss of property, title, and even as extreme as DEATH. As seen above The English Sumptuary Law that was passed in 1574 made it known how important it was that people wore only clothing of their class, not above or below. When this law was passed actors/actress were uneasy in figuring out how they would provided different roles on stage without breaking the new law. Actor/Actress were usual middle class citizens working in medieval guilds and traveling town from town. So when playing the role of a King or a Queen they would not be able to wear the clothing of those higher classed citizens. But like all rules there is always a way around it, hence The Get Out Clause.

" Note also that the meaning of this order is not to prohibit a servant from wearing any cognizance of his master, or henchmen, heralds, pursuivants at arms; runners at jousts, tourneys, or such martial feats, and such as wear apparel given them by the Queen, and such as shall have license from the Queen for the same."

This clause applied to actors/actress and the costumes that they wore and made it clear that these troupes had to have a license from the Queen in order to wear clothing above their class in the plays that they produced.

Costumes changed who you were on stage and without them; the audience would not believe that you were the Queen of England or if you were a chambermaid.

Costumes for Women
Women's Fashion
*Smock or shift
*Stockings or hose
*Corset or bodice
*Farthingale- a hoped skirt
*Roll or Rowie

Over Clothes:
*Separate sleeves

Costumes For Men
Men's Fashion

*Stockings or hose

Over Clothes:
*Separate sleeves

Rewritten by: Jennie Pedretti

Fights and Assorted Entertaining Violence

The exploration of stage fighting in the Renaissance and Elizabethan period!

In Markku Peltonen’s The Duel in Early Modern England: Civility, Politeness and Honor the subject of dueling throughout the English renaissance era is addressed. The subject of dueling being a legally bound event and used for settlements of offended honor is discussed and the events themselves categorized as a gentlemanly affair. In the process of dueling one had to be civil and polite and often time insults were hidden in the guise of a compliment from one opponent to another. This particular piece aids in the study of The Shoemaker’s Holiday in its suggestion of class conflicts and social struggles. With the dueling scene in TSH we see people of separate classes engaging in a duel which would normally be deemed illegal. However, as is noted by some French dueling philosophies it could be acceptable to defend one’s country national pride through a duel even if rank and status were an issue. This also applied to certain social contracts amongst the citizens, but varied case by case.

An Example of Stick Fighting from 1647

Stage Fighting in Renaissance Drama

Another example of stick fighting from 1647

By Andrew Suarez?
A popular form of entertainment during Renaissance drama was the stage fight. With the introduction of weaponry “Masters” the theater was able to gain a valuable asset in play production. Because the use of real weapons was dangerous to an actor on stage, what is called the “backsword” was a prominent prop in Renaissance dramatic combat. The backsword was a wooden sword, 30 inches long with a basket around the hilt in order to protect the hands; these are roughly the dimensions of a short sword, a standard weapon of the time. As fencing became a glorified sport of the Renaissance period, it also made its way into the theater. As stated before, Masters had begun making their appearance and taught their skills to those willing to pay. It is said that Richard Burbage frequented a Sword Master who may have aided in producing stage battles. Renaissance Sword Masters knew a variety of styles of combat, each sword with its own unique stance, defense and attack. When adapted for the theater, it is not certain whether or not the battles were choreographed or if the actors simply used their knowledge of the sword to produce a more realistic performance. Fighting on stage had to look as realistic as possible for if one was putting on a drama, they wanted not the battle to appear comical in its delivery. When fighting on stage, the actors would strike one another in areas that easily draw blood such as the elbows, knees, and ears. Another method of drawing blood was to use animal bladders hidden under their armpits which would squirt blood after having been struck by their on-stage opponent. Fencing and the Rapier became the dominant weapons of the time as they were considered to be respectable and more elegant than a short, broad, long, or bastard sword. Fencing schools were introduced to England shortly after their origination in Italy and their rapid progression through France and Spain. As war was running rampant throughout the land, it was typical for men to know various styles of swordplay and would wear their swords as part of their daily outfits. Upon the transfer to the stage, the actors had to know the cut of their jib otherwise they could be laughed or booed by the audience. The introduction of the Masters aided in the training of unskilled actors in order to bring an authenticity to the stage.

A Rapier (not unlike my wit)

I hope you've enjoyed this brief segment.


With the growing popularity of plays and public drama came the necessity to design and build theaters large enough to accommodate an increasing number of patrons. While individual theatres varied slightly from case to case, they all had a few key design attributes in common:
-Three stories high
-Built around an open center
-Three levels faced inward for view of stage
-Stage surrounded on 3 sides by audience, only access for actors was through back
-an upper balcony behind the stage could be used for performances
-Often built of timber, lath, and plaster with thatched roofs

Given the difficulty of altering sets, props were often used to highlight the distinctions between scenes. Unlike traveling troupes of actors who simply did not have the room necessary to move props from location to location, theatres like the Globe were able to maintain a healthy supply to enhance the action of a play. Initially theatres would have begun with simply props such as:

  • Swords and daggers, goblets and plates, chairs and stools, candles and torches, blood soaked handkerchiefs, writing materials, manuscripts, bottles of wine or ale, whips, books, blankets, helmets, armor, false jewels, crowns, skulls and bones, animal furs, flags and banners, caskets and containers, flowers and petals
As time went on and theatres amassed more and more props eventually resulting in larger ones such as:

  • Benches, beds, thrones, barrels, wells, tables, and canons

Do in part to the difficulty in moving such large, bulky objects they were often times left on stage and actors were required to move about them.

When props were first introduced actors were bewildered and beguiled, often times not knowing quite what to do with either the props or themselves.In one instance a young gentleman portraying a prince attempted to eat a glass bottle on stage. After biting into it, he dove into the audience shouting "Attica, Attica!", and was never heard from again. It's cited that on a few occasions, overwhelmed with rage and confusion, the players would lash out by tossing the props into the audience or, perhaps even worse, at each other. This resulted in many a bruise and at least one lost eyeball. When asked to comment Shakespeare himself responded, "If all the world's a stage then this is most certainly a stage out of a Louisiana trailer-park after many an ale."

In his article entitled “Amphitheater Staging: In-the-Round or to the Front (and What About Asides)?” Richard Fotheringham discusses some of the principles and practices of theatre staging in English Renaissance Drama. He begins by noting the varying expectations of audience members from our own time and during the Renaissance itself. While audience members today expect a fairly equal opportunity to view a play regardless of socioeconomic status, several hundred years ago this was not the case. The practice of in-the-round staging allowed for actors to move more freely about the stage while also perhaps impeding the views of cheaper seats. Despite this focus on in-the-round staging however Fotheringham argues that there is more physical evidence that suggests that actors either positioned themselves nearest to whomever the most important audience member was or they acted on a stage with a ninety to one-hundred twenty degree arc for audiences to view them. It’s suggested that during the period of Renaissance Drama a transition from in-the-round to end staging was in effect. The remodeling of a number of playhouses in the 16th century shows a general inching backward of the stage away from the center and towards what is considered more standard today. Fotheringham concludes by considering what an actor may have done when instructed to speak “aside”. Within an in-the-round context this would have been quite difficult as the stage is in a central location and moving to one side or the other would have achieved little. Finally, he reasserts that the staging of Renaissance Drama most likely functioned as a transitional period between the older in-the-round style of staging and the more modern variety of end staging.

Amphitheater Staging: In-the-Round or to the Front (and What About Asides)?//Richard Fotheringham//. Comparative Drama. Kalamazoo: Summer 2001. Vol. 35, Iss. 2; pg. 163, 14 pgs

Elizabethan Theater: Make-up
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Make-up in the Elizabethan era served both as a tool of self expression and a social class indicator, which made the use of make-up extremely influential. The practice of make-up therefore transcended British culture on multiple levels. The predominant use of make-up though was in theater and in the upper class. For instance, upper class individuals had the money to use make-up and did so to establish themselves over others. The materials for make-up were expensive so the commoner could not afford to apply any make-up. Due to this the commoners’ complexions looked far darker than the upper class. The poor had become much tanner from their hard labor in the fields. England though established class systems and make-up served as the perfect tool for this. The use of cosmetics though had many consequences, which were at times fatal. Such poisons like lead, arsenic and mercury were used on the face and had the ability to cause permanent damage. With this said make-up was the vogue style at the time. Queen Elizabeth made the use of make-up so popular with her extremely pale complexion and blonde and red wigs. The queen was said to have small pox and because of this suffered from scars, through make-up these scars were able to be covered. Wigs also became a very popular accessory and the Queen was said to have the most elaborate collection. Make-up has evolved over time but there are still some remnants of Elizabethan make-up that will continue to influence the world of make-up in fashion and in theater.

This clip from the movie, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, demonstrates how upper class women in society during that time wore their makeup.

Elizabethan Make-up:The Bare Essentials

What Was Popular?

  • Narrow high eyebrows
  • Snow-white skin
  • Red, yellow, blonde or gold hair
  • Rosy cheeks
  • Red lips

How they achieved look?

  • Hair-colored wigs,bleaching.
  • Face-ceruse(a mixture of vinegar and white lead)
  • Lips and Cheeks-fucus, cochineal, madder, vermilion and ochre-based compounds

Dangers of makeup?

  • The pale skin would cover up acne, aging and scars from small pox, which was popular during the time.
  • Pale skin signified those part of the upper class
  • The lower class citizens had darker faces because they had jobs outside and could not afford makeup

Dangers behind the use of makeup?

  • Poisonous ingredients such as
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Mercury
  • These could all be potentially fatal to those who used them


Research Paragraph

The article I chose touches on Elizabethan make-up in a few different areas. It begins with the emergence of make-up itself. Apparently, it was pioneered and first used by her royal majesty the queen. Then, make-up transitioned to Elizabethan theatre where young boys were first to use it to appear like refined ladies of their time. Face paint, known as fucus, came in a variety of reds and was used on cheeks and lips. During this time, people also strived to have very pail skin. Elizabethan actors accomplished this pail look by applying ceruse, a combination of white lead and vinegar, to the face. This ghostly-white skin was hard to come by naturally, because the pox was a widespread disease and caused much disfigurement. If disease was not enough cause for a health scare during these times, the make-up was known to drive one mad. The reoccurring ingredients in Elizabethan make-up were such lethal toxins as lead, arsenic, and mercury. The side effect of using these heavy metals was insanity, which is a small price to pay for beauty in the Elizabethan theater.


Potential Production Plans
  • The production of the play we would set it in a late 1950s era highschool. The actors would portray the parts of students, and their ever so pesky parents. The thematic elements of romance could be made good use of in the context of a high school as teachers and parents could function as the ruling class, demonstarting authority over the younger actors.
  • Another way to stage this production would be to set it in contemporary Philadelphia, and the Amish community of Lancaster county. The upper-class characters of Dekker's comedy would be from the city, and the shoemakers would live in the rural Amish community. Music and costumes would also play a large role is portraying certain themes and ideas that are crucial to the play.
  • I believe the best way to reproduce The Shoemakers Holiday would be to set it in Chicago O’Hare airport in modern times. Jack Black would play Simon Eyre and Eva Mendes would play Margery. There would be a playoff series between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, which would represent the war between France and England. This version would stay true to the essence of the play and the writing of Thomas Dekker.
  • My production plan was to be set in a futuristic theme of Imperialistic expansion wherein the colonizers of planets would be main characters. All of the characters would remain the same, the focus would be on the perils of space journeying and planetary colonization rather than war with the French, but with obvious humorous overtones.

Work Cited

  1. Alchin, Linda. "Elizabethan Costumes." Elizabethan Era 16 July 2005 02 Oct 2008 <http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-costume.htm>.
  2. Alchin, Linda. “Elizabethan Era.” Elizabethan-era.org.uk.16 July 2005. 31 October 2008<http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-make-up.htm>.
  3. Alchin, Linda. "Elizabethan Music." Elizabethan Era. 20 March 2008. Elizabethan Era. 20 Oct 2008 <http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/>.
  4. Askini, Danielle. “Elizabeth Costuming and Makeup.” Nikaaskini.com. 1997. 24 October 2008<http://nikaaskini.com/index.php/?page_id=70>.
  5. Chambers, E. K. "The Elizabethan Stage" The Clarendon press (1949)
  6. Doran, Madeleine. "The Macbeth Music." Shakespeare Studies 16(1983): 153.
  7. "Elizabethan Theatre Facts" http://www.william-shakespeare.info/elizabethan-theatre-facts.htm
  8. "English Renaissance Theatre" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  9. Kapur, Shekhar.”Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” 12 October 2007.31 October 2008<http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=sFojixOc8Hc>.
  10. Lad, Kashmira. "Elizabethan Music." Buzzle.com. 16 April 2008. 20 Oct 2008 <http://www.buzzle.com/articles/elizabethan-music.html>.
  11. Leed, Drea. “Elizabethan Make-up 101.”Renaissance-Central.com. July 2000. 30 October 2008<http://www.rencentral.com/jul_aug_vol1/makeup101.shtml>.
  12. Morsberger, Robert E. Swordplay and the Elizabethan and Jacobean Stage.
  13. "Music in the Elizabethan era." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 24 Sep 2008, 01:04 UTC. 20 Oct 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Music_in_the_Elizabethan_era&oldid=255303271>.
  14. Nary, Wayne. Notes on Stage Combat. http://www.clt.astate.edu/wnarey/Shakespeare%20files/Stage_Fighting_and_martial_arts.htm