There is little doubt that the theatre of the time influenced contemporary drama in many ways, so let us consider some of them:
Why should I war without the walls of Troy
That find such cruel battle here within?
asks Troilus at the beginning of Troilus and Cressida, simultaneously telling us where the play is taking place and describing to us Troilus's mental state.
Look Hector, how the Sun begins to set;
How ugly night comes breathing at his heels,
Even with the vail and darking of the Sun,
To close the day up, Hector's life is done.
Here we see how in this slightly later play Shakespeare uses his Time statement to reinforce the action, using the factual time statement on one level and employing it as imagery on another.
Duration of Time is also effectively conveyed through the words of the play and we are frequently urged through a considerable period of time in a matter of minutes by constant time references. Take for instance, the murder of Duncan in Macbeth Act II, scene i; it begins with a discussion between Banquo and Fleance:
B. How goes the night, boy?
F. The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.
B. And she goes down at Twelve.
F. I take't 'tis later, sir.
The scene then progresses through, "the king's a-bed" . . . "Good repose", to
the knocking on the door and Macduff and Lennox greeting Macbeth with
"Good-morrow, noble sir!" I suppose the best example of this way of dealing
with time is to be found in Marlowe's Dr Faustus where, in the last scene over
a period of some ten minutes, the audience is taken through the last agonising
hour of Faustus's life from the moment he exclaims,
Ah, Faustus!to the closing moments of his life when he is dragged away by devils.
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned eternally,
There were no programmes so plays were often preceded by a 'Dumb Show' which was in effect a sort of synopsis of the action. Though there is no evidence that Shakespeare's own plays had such a preliminary, we see him making use of this convention in " The Mousetrap" in Hamlet.
Let four captainscries Fortinbras, or Octavius Caesar says of Cleopatra,
Bear Hamlet like a Soldier to the stage
Take up her bed
And bear her women from the monument.
It was the exigencies of his theatre that forced Shakespeare to end his tragedies with the tension lowered, the forces of evil losing hold and normality gaining control, He is often praised for his psychological understanding of his audience - not allowing them to rush out into the streets when emotion was at its height, but calming them down, sending them out quietly. He certainly understood the power at his command, for he shows in Julius Caesar how Antony rouses the crowd and what the results of sending an audience away in a highly tense and emotional state can be. Nevertheless, I believe that, had he been able to end his tragedies at the high point he would have done so.
I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee - no way but thisOthello falls dead upon Desdemona's bed, the audience is tense, horrified, the drama at its height and down comes the curtain. What actually happens, of course, is that Lodovico turns upon Iago with,
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
Look on the tragic loading of this bed,
This is thy work; - the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid.
The bed is inside the recess of the inner stage and the curtain is drawn across before the remaining Players go out but Othello and Desdemona may remain hidden until the audience has dispersed.
This page is part of Dr. Hilda Spear's Lecture on The Elizabethan Theatre