Drama for your Great-Great-Great Great-Great-Grandmama!


Welcome to our Wiki page for Dr. Edith Frampton's English Drama class at San Diego State University. Our group has spent the last three months compiling research and artistic design to provide a glimpse into the necessary elements of drama before the year 1800. We hope you will enjoy the knowledge of the authors we have researched as well as our own interpretive voices as you browse this page. As Mark Twain so eloquently put it, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.”

Kelli Fontana: Props
Rea Arechandieta: Costumes
Khrisha Blackwell: Restrictions to the Theater
Alexie Price: Make-up
Jef Andrews: Music

What is a Prop?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary it is “a theatrical slang. [short for properties.] stage requisites” other definitions detail it as “any movable article or object used on the set of a play or movie”(Harris & Korda 1). Props in the Elizabethan Era would have been anything considered to be the property of the theater or acting guild used to visually enhance the performance. Props could be anything from a rickety old chair to a costly bejeweled gown.

The Myth of Elizabethan Props
Myth: It is believed by Jonathon Harris that many modern acting companies believe that Elizabethan theater was minimalist in nature and lacked the theatrical enhancement of props. Audiences had to rely solely on the language of a play because the actors performed on a bare stage. Some myths about Elizabethan minimalist theater may stem from protestant disdain of Catholic objects used as props; such as relics and priests’ clothing used in Catholic ceremonies within the play(Harris & Korda 7).
Accurate representation of Renassaince stage. See Tree

Fact: Elizabethan theater used extravagant and sophisticated props that varied greatly in their visual and auditory effects on the audience. Due to the short performance life of Elizabethan plays there was no permanent scenery or painted background on stage; however numerous props were placed on the stage to create scenery. Furniture such as beds, tables and even thrones were used to illustrate indoor settings as whole trees and plots of grass were used to express the outdoors. According to an illustrated scene with in The Spanish Tragedy there was an intricate wooden framed arbor from which an actor was to hang by the neck while supported by a bench covered by foliage (Bruster). There was no shortage of dramatic props used during the Elizabethan Era.

Props used in the Theater bloody_head.jpg
Props were used for all genres in the theater. Props in a tragedy would commonly be u sed for a dramatic effect; many plays were known to be dreadfully gory in the amount of ani mal blood and decapitated heads they used in death scenes. According to Linda K. Alchin, dull bladed weapons and pistols with powder but no bullets would be used during fights. Some theaters were even known to have cannons for performances. Fireworks were used on stage to represent lightening and cannons were rolled back stage to sound like thunder for stormy weather (Alchin). Props could also play an essential role in comedies as well. In Thomas Dekker’s, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Jane’s wedding mask added to the confusion of who was getting married. Many props were used in a variety of genres because of what they represented to the audience. The use of lanterns or candlesticks represented the night, if the performance occurred during the day, the lantern signified the time within the play.

Moving the Props
It was not uncommon for props to be moved on and off stage during the performance. Renaissance theaters such as the Globe had trap doors on the stage floor so that props could be lifted onto or off the stage; the stage was at least five feet high which allowed the "prop man" and other stage hands to stand and arrange the props below. The "prop man" controlled all aspects of the props; what props were required for each play, the order that they were needed on stage, and who carried what prop (Alchin).

Props used in The Shoemaker's Holiday
elegant_shoe.jpgProps would have been very important in a Renaissance production of The Shoemaker's Holiday. The main purpose of the props in this play would have been to visually signify the importance of class. Costumes and the sophistication of the each character's props emphasized their role in society. Lacey's clothing when he was dressed as Hans the Dutchman was not simply a costume but was a visual representation of Lacey hiding himself in the lower class to avoid going to war. Weaponry also would have been included on the prop list for scene eighteen when tension rises between the shoemakers and Hammon's elite friends. Last but not least, is the importance of Jane's shoes; after Ralph has returned from the war he cannot find his beloved wife until he is given the very unique shoes, which he gave her before leaving for battle, to repair. It is because of the shoes that he finds his long lost wife and they are reunited before she was able to make the mistake of remarrying.


Sumptuary Laws
The word sumptuary means an expense, or expenditure, and sumptuary laws were imposed in Elizabethan England to limit people’s expenditures. This could apply to things such as food and jewelry, but most importantly it applies to attire. People were limited to what they could wear by law, and the laws were put in place to maintain class structures, like a caste system. According to Elizabethan-era.org.uk, the sumptuary laws were in place and generally recognized, until the Black Plague hit England. After the English population was decimated, it left room for the merchant class to rise up in status (as the competition was, in effect, eliminated). Henry VIII, wanting to maintain order and be able to tell the nobility from the merchant class, revised the sumptuary laws and made them stricter and harsher.

Some laws for women:

Some statutes set forth by King Henry VIII in 1574 included, “None shall wear Any cloth of gold, tissue, nor fur of sables: except duchesses, marquises, and countesses in their gowns, kirtles, partlets, and sleeves; cloth of gold, silver, tinseled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver or pearl, saving silk mixed with gold or silver in linings of cowls, partlets, and sleeves: except all degrees above viscountesses, and viscountesses, baronesses, and other personages of like degrees in their kirtles and sleeves.
Velvet (crimson, carnation); furs (black genets, lucerns); embroidery or passment lace of gold or silver: except all degrees above mentioned the wives of knights of the Garter and of the Privy Council, the ladies and gentlewomen of the privy chamber and bedchamber, and maids of honor.”
As you can see, the rules were very specific when it came to class boundaries. The use of gold, silver, and silk are repeatedly forbidden for women to wear unless they were of noble status. Another item that was generally not allowed to be worn for women of lower social status was fur. Many furs were off limits to women with less than “the degree of baroness” such as that of leopards.

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Costume designers for the movie Elizabeth have been commended for their research and attention to detail for their efforts in Elizabethan era wardrobe.

Some laws For men:

None shall wear in his apparel:
“Any silk of the color of purple, cloth of gold tissued, nor fur of sables, but only the King, Queen, King's mother, children, brethren, and sisters, uncles and aunts; and except dukes, marquises, and earls, who may wear the same in doublets, jerkins, linings of cloaks, gowns, and hose; and those of the Garter, purple in mantles only.
Woolen cloth made out of the realm, but in caps only; velvet, crimson, or scarlet; furs, black genets , lucernes; embroidery or tailor's work having gold or silver or pearl therein: except dukes, marquises, earls, and their children, viscounts, barons, and knights being companions of the Garter, or any person being of the Privy Council.“

Again some of the same trends are repeated for men. Gold and silver are particularly highlighted as off limits to those lower class citizens. Somewhat different is the use of the color purple, which was not allowed for anyone under the title of earl. Velvet is also again off limits, as is most fur. Differently not allowed was imported wool, though this may have been to stimulate the domestic economy of wool coming from the north (where Scotland is now).

The punishment for breaking the sumptuary laws could range from fines to whipping, loss of property, or even death. So lesser nobles had best stick to fox and otter fur if they wanted to keep themselves out of trouble.

external image tudors_gal2_drape_a_mem3.jpgCostume designers on the set of The Tudors have taken significant liberties especially in Anne's attire to sex up history. Though general accuracies in the history remain true, The Tudors in is done in a much more "soap-opera" style than Elizabeth was, despite the use of many overlapping characters.

Restrictions to the Theater

National vs. Local Government Opinion
Britain’s reigning monarchs of the period—Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603), King James I (1603-1625), and King Charles I (1625-1642)—believed that “the pleasures of theatrical entertainments and other ‘innocent sports’ distracted their subjects from thoughts of rebellion” (Bevington xvii). The theatre was a positive form of entertainment, and the monarchs often invited the best acting companies to perform for them at court.

Contrastingly, local governments looked down on public theatre, calling it a “low” form of entertainment that distracted people from work, depleted their intellects, and excited them to lust and violence (Bevington xvi). Theatre was regarded as an “immoral pastime” that should be “discouraged rather than tolerated”(Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatre).

Where Performances were Held
Because of local governments’ negative opinions of the theatre, prior to 1576, actors traveled from town to town,

The Theatre, 1576
The Theatre, 1576
performing wherever suitable space could be found—inns, halls, houses, platform stages in courtyards. These makeshift conditions were a hindrance to the actors—who were often arrested for vagrancy—and their craft, keeping theatre on an “amateurish level” (Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatre).

Despite these drawbacks, theatres started establishing themselves in the late 1560s and 1570s, and in 1576, the Theatre—the first “permanent” playhouse—was built. Others, including the Curtain, the Swan, the Rose, and the Globe, soon followed.

Instead of banning theatres, an “advisory body to the Crown” known as the Privy Council decided to regulate them (Bevington xvii). Aware of the possibility that the theatres might “foment sedition, the Council set up a system of censorship to ensure that no play criticized prominent people, commented explicitly on government policies, or encouraged impiety” (Bevington xvii).

Additionally, each play had to be approved by the Master of the Revels before it could be performed. A “Court officer in the service of the Lord Chamberlain,” the Master of the Revels was “the most powerful minister in the land” (Censorship). His powers included licensing playhouses, finding material, auditioning acting troupes, collecting fees, designing costumes and sets, closing and reopening theatres, and censoring plays (Master of the Revels). Actors were required to present to him prior to public performance. If the Master of the Revels disapproved of the content of the play, changes were mandated, or the performance was prohibited.

Other Regulations to the Theater
In 1606, the Act to Restrain Abuses of Players was enacted to further regulate theatres. According to the act, “If . . . any person or persons doe or shall in any Stage play, [. . .] jestingly or profanely speake or use the holy name of God [. . . he or they] shall be forfeite for everie such Offence by him or by them committed Tenne pounds” (Censorship). Plays written prior to this act were revised with alterations, though the original unamended text could safely be printed (Egan).

The End of Theater
King Charles II
King Charles II

Civil War erupted in 1642, and for eighteen years theatrical activity ceased. The Puritans “closed all the theatres and forbade dramatic performances of any kind. A law was passed suspending performances for five years, and after the five years, another law was passed “declaring that all actors were to be considered rogues” (English Theatre, 1642-1800, the).

During the years of the Interregnum, before King Charles II took the throne in 1660, many theatres were actually dismantled. England’s Restoration, namely the new king’s ascension to the Crown, reignited British drama (English Theatre, 1642-1800, the).


Cosmetics, Fashion, and Beauty within Renaissance Drama

This video exemplifies the modern technique and procedure used to produce Dramatic Make-Up. This specific individual is being transformed into a character from William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
The term "Make-Up" is a broad category that references much more than the physical compound itself. As vibrant and useful as make-up has become, it's history is equally as colorful. Make-Up and its application hold the ability to disguise and transform the human exterior into whatever the artist desires. The everyday appearance of the Elizabethan woman was extremely important because life expectancy was short and the skin quality began deteriorating early as a result of the lack of Vitamin C intake in their diets. Drea Leed writes about how the women would often dye their hair yellow using a mixture of saffron, cumin seed, celandine and oil. Women would also induce blood loss to make their skin have the coveted pale complexion that was considered beautiful. Lead based foundation was popular despite the prolonged illness and frequent death that resulted in its use.
virgin1.jpgOrigins & Uses
Matt Bluebottle uses his website to discuss the origin of basic cosmetics in Ancient Egypt where women and men both used kohl as dark eyeliner to accentuate their eyes. Meanwhile in Ancient Greece the women began dying their hair blonde using the same mixture Elizabethan women used. Despite the invention and introduction of cosmetics, it wasn't until the rise of fashion during the English Renaissance that cosmetics were a requirement for the elite status of women. Venice was the headquarters of the cosmetic industry and the main producer of the foundation called "ceruse". Ceruse was comprised of white lead and the women who used it knew that it would make them ill when it was absorbed into their blood stream through their facial pores. Doctors warned against it and the church declared that it was the punishment vane women deserved. Despite the warnings, the women used ceruse by adding layer to layer rather than properly washing the old foundation away. After prolonged use, the lead would discolor their skin, cause swelling in the throat and mouth, ultimately destroying their lungs. Mercury was also a common ingredient in cosmetics that destroyed the women's teeth and gums as well as pass through their body to their children. www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A6380895

Standards of Beauty
Patricia Phillippy's essay called Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama emphasizes the effects of socially constructed beauty standards that Elizabethan women faced. The men were introduced to a new definition of what constituted "beautiful" yet simultaneously women faced persecution for utilizing the sinful compounds that allowed them to reach the new beauty standard. Gender roles of the time period had already suppressed these women a great deal, and those gender roles coupled with expectations concerning their appearance, made being a woman excruciatingly difficult. Cosmetics were also introduced to the theatre realm, where actors were painted for female roles, often intensifying the audience's approval with the performance. As men began to develop sexual fantasies about women who wore cosmetics, the practice of a man wearing cosmetics for a production increased the level of hilarity.

Music in Elizabethan Theater

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Music was an integral component to the Elizabethan theatrical experience. From church sanctioned holy music and prayers to the ever-present secular music of banquet halls the music of the theater permiated the air during the Renaissance. According to Cheyenne DeMulde of Cedar Crest College, the standard band of musical accompaniment for many plays consisted of five stringed instruments, with brass and drums added as needed. However, many major companies of the period strayed from the standard, creating their own musical traditions (DeMulde). Cheyenne goes on to inform us that music was rarely atmospheric, but emotive. Music was used to represent a creative force for a particular character, whether good or bad. For instance: while prayer music would certainly draw a given character to a more Godly or pious disposition, music representing temptation would lead to his self destruction. (DeMulde)

Common Instruments

Lute: This stringed instrument, closely resembles a modern guitar, mandolin, or banjo. According to Musica Antiqua of Iowa State University, the lute is the undisputed favorite instrument of the period, mainly because it can easily be accompanied by vocals. This instrument's popularity and association to the English theater is commemorated by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Thomas Dekker. The heroine in Dekker's The Honest Whore was a professional lutenist. In addition, a scene from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew includes a lute lesson. (Musica Antiqua)

Viol: The viol is a family of stringed instruments which are held upright like a cello or under the chin, similar to a violin. During the Renaissance period, the viol would have been played with a bow. However, unlike a cello the bow is held underhand. Musica Antiqua provides that the bow of the viol is actually convex in shape, as opposed to the violin's concave shaped bow. This instrument was introduced to the English by Flemmish and Italian musicians. (Musica Antiqua)

Recorders: Renaissance recorders vary considerably in size and application to contemporary recorders. As Musica Antigua asserts the Renaissance authority on the instrument and author of Opera Intitulata Fontegara, Ganassi, contests that much of the recorders quality and tonality is an attempt to replicate the human voice. (Musica Antiqua)

William Byrd (1540 - 1623)

As the most prominent musical composer in England at the time, William Byrd is to Elizabethan music what Shakespeare is to Elizabethan literature. According to his bibliography on the Naxos recordings web site, William Byrd was a devout Catholic and met troublesome persecution for his beliefs. However, he transcended these troubles to become an esteemed member of the Chapel Royal, and wrote music for both Catholics (albeit privately) and the Church of England. (Byrd)

Byrd also wrote secular music, of course. He is particularly well known for writing musical consorts, court music for virginals, Fantasias, Pavans and Galliards, which Naxos offers were the "fashionable paired dances of the time." Perhaps most notably, though, Byrd wrote music for Shakespeare's theater including: How Should I Your True Love Know?, in which Shakespeare, himself, is credited as the lyricist. (Byrd)

The Shoemaker's Holiday Production Plans

Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday, need not be held back by 16th century standards. There are many ways to refresh this classic play and revamp it for a 21st century audience. The language can be exemplified by a modern twist of setting to enhance a modern audience's understanding. Here are some ways in which The Shoemaker's Holiday can be reborn:

Kelli Fontana's modern adaptation involves placing The Shoemaker's Holiday in a high school setting and transforming the characters from shoemakers to football stars, the power of a mayor can be passed on to a Principal, the star Simon Eyre will rise from football coach to principal replacement and the love separated by social class can be exemplified as the head cheerleader of a public high school catching the eye of a spoiled rich boy who has escaped from a private boarding school.The symbolism of the shoe can be remade into a class ring, each of which is individually designed by the student with only the school colors in common.

Jef Andrews' production plan is an adaptation of the The Shoemaker's Holiday set in the early 1980s. The shoemakers' rise in wealth and class parallels that of the yuppies, so I adapted their occupation accordingly: as stockbrokers on Wall Street. The music would have to be remixed to New wave and synth pop. The costumes would have to be altered to include "Members Only" jackets and plenty of day glow, flourescent colors. The war setting would be Grenada or Beruit, so passage of time would have to be adapted accordingly. Other than that, I think the themes and literary devices would remain intact.

Alexie Price's
adaptation of The Shoemaker's Holiday is titled The Crafty Dealer and transforms shoemakers into drug dealers and shoes into heroin. Rowland Lacy is a college student who disguises himself in order to win over his love interest, Rose, who is a heroine addict. Ralph is an undercover cop who is pulled from the drug case and sent on an undercover operation, while his partner Hammon attempts to gain the affection of Ralph's wife, Jane. Simon Eyre is the man who made his fortune on a large shipment of black tar and orchestrates the deals with the addicts of the play whose lives are transformed by the substance. The play's script is to be performed in its original text despite the change in setting. Costumes are comprised of raggedy clothing that are soiled, while performance cosmetics allow the characters to have sunken features. Lighting will be dimmed throughout the performance and a soundtrack comprised of street noises will contribute to the underground tunnel setting in the depths of Chicago's Lower Wacker Drive.

Khrisha Blackwell's Production Plan for Scene 6:
In keeping with Alexie's idea to have "deer" be a drug, and the other characters be involved in that respect, I considered how the scene could be played to fit with the modern twist. The scene could take place outdoors, with Sibyl and Rose in a parked car. Hammon and Warner pull up and park next to them, and ask the girls if they've got any drugs. Sibyl is hiding "deer" or “horn”---pot---in her bra, and Warner finds it when he flirts with her. They're all four flirting in the parking lot when Oatley pulls up, bringing some heroin with him. Now that the main drug lord is there, they all proceed to get high, Sibyl passing out the syringes and cooking the heroin on spoons. While the others get high, Oatley reveals his plan to the audience to get Hammon to marry his daughter.

Rea Arechandieta’s Production Plan:
My production plan starts with the play being set in the 1970s. Essentially, the war going on is the Vietnam War and the Shoemakers guild is a front for a resistance movement. Firk is a hippie who carries a guitar with him on stage at all times and sings most of his little quips to himself (as well as the audience). I have the “deer” being a codeword in the resistance movement, which ties to the fact that the deer was flailed and fed to the leader of the movement for supper.

The video below is the collaborative efforts of Alexie Price, Khrisha Blackwell, Kelli Fontana, Rea Arechandieta and Jef Andrews. The original idea of the adaptation belonged to Alexie Price and was further adapted with her comrades. The setting is within the modern day world of pimps, prostitutes, gangsters and drugs. We hope you enjoy our edgy interpretation…

Works Cited:
  1. Alchin, L.K. “Globe Theater Props.” 2005. www.William Shakespeare org uk. 24 Sept. 2008 <http://www.globe-theatre.org.uk/globe-theatre-props.htm>
  2. Alchin, Linda."Elizabethan Make-Up." Elizabethan Era. September 2008 <http://www.elizabethan-era.org/uk/elizabethan-make-up.htm>.
  3. Alchin, Linda. "Elizabethan Costumes." Elizabethan Era 16 July 2005 26 Nov 2008 <http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-costume.htm>.
  4. Bevington, David, et al. English Renaissance Drama. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2002.
  5. Bluebottle, Matt. "Fashion Victims." BBC. 3 Jan. 2006. 6 Oct. 2008 http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/a6380895.
  6. Bruster, Douglas. “The Dramatic Life of Objects.” Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 67-90.
  7. "Byrd, William Biograpy." Composers. Naxos. 22 November 2008. http://www.naxos.com/composerinfo/William_Byrd/27115.htm
  8. Censorship. Net Industries. 28 October, 2008. http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/575/Censorship.html
  9. Cross, Helen. “RSC Property Shop.” Royal Shakespeare Company. 24 Sept. 2008 <http://www.rsc.org.uk/content/241.aspx>.
  10. DeMulde, Cheyenne. Renaissance Music and the Function of Lyrics and Inset Poetry in the Play. Love's Labour Lost: Literary Influences. Humanities Department Cedar Crest College. 2001. <http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/lll/cdemulder.html>
  11. Egan, Gabriel. Act to Restrain Abuses of Players. Oxford University Press. 28 October, 2008. <
  12. Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatre. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 28 October, 2008. <http://www.unap.cl/metadot/index.pl?id=11693&isa=Item&field_name=item_attachment_file&op=download_file>
  13. English Theatre, 1642-1800, the. Central Washington University. 28 October, 2008. http://www.cwu.edu/~robinsos/ppages/resources/Theatre_History/Theahis_10.html
  14. Harris, Jonathon Gil. “Shakespeare's Hair: Staging the Object of Material Culture.” Shakespeare Quarterly 52.4 (2001): 479-491.
  15. Harris, Jonathon Gill. Korda, Natasha. “Introduction: Towards a Materialist Account of Stage Properties.” Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama.
  16. Leed, Drea. "Elizabethan Make-Up 101." Elizabethan Costume. 12 Sep 2008 <http://www.elizabethancostume.net/makeup.html>.
  17. Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Globe. Shakespeare Online. 2000. 24 Sept. 2008 http://www.shakespeare-online.com/theatres/theglobe.html Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 1-24.
  18. Master of the Revels. everything2.com. 28 October, 2008. http://everything2.com/e2node/Master%2520of%2520the%2520Revels
  19. Musica Antiqua. Iowa State University. 22 November 2008. http://www.music.iastate.edu/antiqua/index.html
  20. Smith, Hal H. "Some Principles of Elizabethan Stage Costume." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld institutes 25 (July-De., 1962): 240-57.
  21. Walsh, Brian. Performing Historicity in Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday. SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. 2006. 323-348. <http://muse.jhu.edu.libproxy.sdsu.edu/journals/studies_in_english_literature/v046/46.2walsh.html>