Theatre in Doctor Faustus
The medieval drama had been an amateur endeavour presented either by the clergy or members of the various trade guilds. The performers were not professional actors, but ordinary citizens who acted only in their spare time. With the centralization of the population in the cities during the latter part of the Middle Ages, the interest in secular drama began to increase. At the end of the medieval period, when there were still some guild productions, a rivalry developed between the amateur actor and the new professional actor which stimulated interest in the art of acting. In the sixteenth century, the Elizabethan stage became almost wholly professional and public. Professional groups were formed which charged admission fees to allow audiences to witness their performances. The new theatre groups devoted their entire time to the art and craft of play producing. The art of acting be-came a profession during the Elizabethan period which would furnish a good livelihood for the actor. Likewise, the production of plays at this time was a good financial venture.
The actors, usually young males, organized themselves into companies in which each of them would own a certain number of shares. These companies were cooperative and self-governing and divided the profit from the performances. The company would either lease or build its own theatre in which to perform, hire men to play the minor parts, and get young apprentice boys to play the female parts in the plays. The important members of the company usually played definite types of characters. For example, Richard Burbage would always play the leading tragic roles, whereas such actors as William Kempe and Robert Armin would play the comic roles. Plays were often written for a particular troupe or company, and often at their direction. For example, a playwright might read the first act to the members of the company and then accept their criticism and suggestions for changes. Consequently, many plays might be considered as the combined effort of dramatists and actors.
The method of acting was peculiar to the Elizabethan period. The actors expressed themselves in a highly operatic manner with flamboyant expressions. The gestures were stylized according to certain rhetorical traditions. Rhetoric books of the time told exactly how to use one's hands to express fear or anger or other emotional states. The Elizabethan stage was a "presentational theatre" in that there was no attempt to persuade the audience that they were not in a theatre and no attempt was made to create any dramatic illusions because there was very little scenery. Also, the actors could speak directly to the audience; the soliloquy, a speech spoken directly to the audience, was a typical characteristic of Elizabethan drama. Since the stage was relatively unadorned, the actors depended upon the visual colour and pageantry of their elaborate costumes to give colour to the play. Sometimes there was an attempt to wear historical costumes, but most often the actors wore decorative and elaborate Elizabethan dress.