7. ACTORS, ACTING AND AUDIENCE

slide 16 Because of the growth of custom-made theatres, by early in the l7th century settled companies of Players were firmly established. slide 17 The lst Folio of 1623 gives us a list of 26 actors in Shakespeare's Company. All the Players were men and boys - no women - and the very name 'Players' indicates the pleasure element associated with the theatre. Here are a few slides of known members of Shakespeare's Company. Slide number 16 shows us Richard Burbage, son of James Burbage who built the Globe and established the Blackfriars Theatre; Richard Burbage was one of the great tragic actors of his day and the roles of Hamlet, Othello and Lear were probably written for him. Next, in slide number 17 we have (on the right) Will Kemp, the comedian; slide 18 he played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing but he probably left the company soon after. He was famous for a remarkable morris-dance he performed all the way from London to Norwich - about 110 miles and it is this which is depicted here; the slide is made from an old woodcut. When Kemp left the company he was followed as Clown by Robert Armin, shown here on slide number 18. Armin played Feste in Twelfth Night and also Lear's Fool; he was himself a playwright and a well-educated man, proud of his knowledge of Latin. On the next slide, number 19, is William Sly, slide 19 who was in Shakespeare's Company from 1594 to 1605. It is surmised, though we have no proof, that he took youthful, romantic or soldierly parts such as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, Laertes in Hamlet or Hotspur in Henry IV.

slide 20 To finish up this piece on the Players, here are two slides of Shakespeare himself; first, slide number 20 is the Chandos Portrait which is in the National Portrait Gallery in London; this is believed to be a good likeness of Shakespeare; slide 21 it has been suggested that the artist was Richard Burbage who appears to have been a man of many gifts; this story is not much credited today, however. The portrait is known as the Chandos portrait, simply because at one time it was owned by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Slide number 21 is probably the best known of all the portraits of Shakespeare; it is the Droeshout engraving, which was used as frontispiece to the First Folio. Shakespeare was, of course, himself a Player; his apprenticeship, like that of most Elizabethan dramatists, was the stage itself; he is generally credited with playing the Ghost in Hamlet and this is probably the level of part that he played - enough to keep him in direct touch with acting but not so much that he did not have time to write and direct his plays.

It is fascinating to speculate about the Players and we know little enough about them but Shakespeare's plays were written with his own company in mind and one can observe how certain character-types re-appear in plays of the same period and can deduce, for instance, that a tall fair and a short dark boy took the parts of Helena and Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream and then followed with Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It. Or, a tall thin man in the company played such a part as Don Armado in Love's Lebour's Lost and then the part of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night was written for him.

The style of acting in Shakespeare's day was very much more declamatory and ranting than it is today, at least in our serious theatre. When Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream pleads:

I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split,

The raging rocks
With shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phibbus' car
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.
he is describing a style of acting that would be quite familiar to his audience; this loud, extrovert, swashbuckling style was - enhanced by the resonance of the Players' feet upon the hollow stage - flap! flap! flap! with their pointed shoes across the stage - a deliberate way of walking which Burbage is supposed to have been famous for.

Finally, the audience. They were close-packed and there were no reserved seats - first come, first served. If they disapproved of an actor they would pelt him with oranges or anything handy; they would hiss and shout. On the other hand, they were ready with their applause and would clap and cheer when they approved. A visit to the theatre in Shakespeare's day was a rousing, lively, life-enhancing experience for a receptive individual.

This page is part of Dr. Hilda Spear's Lecture on The Elizabethan Theatre