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Shakespeare and performance: the 16th century to today [infographic]

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Shakespeare’s plays were performed at professional playhouses such as the Globe and the Rose, as well as at the Inns of Court, the houses of noblemen, and at the Queen’s palace. In fact, the playing company The Queen’s Men was formed at the express command of Elizabeth I to provide entertainment for the Court and ended up dominating the English stage during the 1580s. As later playing companies, such as the Admiral’s Men and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, rose to notoriety, the repertory system aided in appeasing the demand from audiences and provided players with the opportunity to perform in a diverse selection of plays. Other innovations, such as enhanced special effects and explorations into different styles of plays, ultimately enabled English theatre to evolve and expand into what we recognize it as today.

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You can download the infographic as a PDF or JPG.

Image: “The Plays of William Shakespeare” by John Gilbert. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Recent Comments

  1. Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.

    Thank you for highlighting the role of Queen Elizabeth in the growth of Elizabethan theater. Ben Jonson famously referred to Shakespeare as “Sweet Swan of Avon.” Alexander Waugh has discovered that “Avon” was a name for Hampton Court, where many Shakespeare plays were staged for the monarch.

    As you say, the Queen’s theatrical company dominated the English stage in the 1580s. This was after she grew weary of playwrights making transparent efforts to lobby her in plays staged at court in the 1570s. So she instituted the Office of Revels to select only plays that refrained from doing that—at least overtly.

    The most successful playwright in getting past this censorship was John Lyly. His technique was to set his plays in the ancient past. Just as Rod Serling learned he could address controversial topics through sci-fi in “The Twilight Zone” television series, Lyly still addressed contemporary topics, but through disguise.

    And it’s interesting to note that Lyly was most productive while employed as the literary secretary of Edward de Vere, who many of us believe later hid his authorship behind the allonym William Shake-speare. De Vere was called one of the best author of comedies in an anonymous 1589 book. But that book also said de Vere preferred to write anonymously.

    It’s also interesting to observe that the funding for the Office of Revels to stage court entertainments dwindled by roughly £1,000 per annum by 1586, when the Queen began paying de Vere an unusual £1,000 annuity for the rest of her life.

  2. Nat Whilk

    Dr. Waugaman believes his own sci-fi.

    “Avon” was never an English name for Hampton Court. Back in 1545, the Latin poet John Leland proposed “Avondunum” as a toponym for all the Hamptons, North, South, and Court, but the great antiquarian Camden—Ben Jonson’s august teacher—rejected it as a false etymology.

    Scarcely anyone alive when the First Folio was published could have remembered at Hampton Court in its glory days, when the court saw plays there at Christmas and Shrovetide. It was favored by Elizabeth for just ten years, 1568-1577. From the sailing of the Golden Hind until the printing of the Folio, the revels came to Hampton Court only in plague years: 1592, 1593, and 1603.

    And of course, Jonson knew very well where his old friend and rival was born.

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