Measure for Measure Context

Shakespeare's Beginnings

  • eldest son of John Shakespeare, a glove-maker who was prominent on the town council until he fell into financial difficulties
  • married Ann Hathaway and had three children before his 21st birthday
  • he was an actor before he was a writer
  • found a role within the company where he patched up old plays
  • he paid close attention to university-educated dramatists, but knew that they would struggle to appeal to the the common people- 'it was necessary to write for clowns as well as kings'
  • he became an in-house scriptwriter and essentially collected royalties on his work, a new concept for the time
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Playhouses

  • Elizabethan playhouses were one-room theatres
  • Shakespeare wrote for bare platform stages with a standing audience gathered  around in a courtyard in full daylight
  • the capacity of the original Globe Theatre was said to have been around 3000
  • gatherers would collect the money before the play, then appear as extras on stage after the money had been counted
  • although women didn't perform on stage at this time, there was no formal prohibition on it
  • there was a mixed social composition of the audience
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The Ensemble at Work

  • plays would be read aloud in the absence of typewriters and photocopyers
  • after the parts were learned there would be as little as a single rehearsal before the first performance
  • six different plays were put on every week
  • scenery was limted, although sometimes different set pieces were brought on
  • no matter the period of the play, actors always wore contemporary costumes
  • dances symolised the harmony at the end of a comedy
  • actors needed many skills- 'dancing, activity, music, song, elocution, ability of body, memory, skill of weapon, preganancy of wit'
  • a degree of part doubling was necessary, as many characters only appeared for one scene
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The King's Man

  • Shakespeare's productivity rate slowed in the Jacobean era due to constantr plagues which caused the theatres to close for months at a time
  • Macbeth only survives in its shorter text, showing the signs of adaptation after Shakespeare's death
  • a few years after his death, his fellow actors began putting together an authorised edition of hus complete Comedies, Histories and Tragedies
  • These 63 plays gave Shakespeare his immortality
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