Boys as Girls

  • Men as Females
  • Women were forbidden to be on stage
  • Young boys (13-19) played female roles in theatre plays
  • They were on specific diets and exercise
  • Voice coaches trained them to maintain their voice high pitched

Men as Females

  • Young male actors had to maintain a very small and thin figure to mimic female curves (visual attraction)
  • After the age of 20, young male actors had to look for a new profession
  • Lasted from 1560 – 1661

COSTUMES: Play Enhancement

  • Actors wore very luxurious and colourful clothing that appealed to more people attracting them to plays (latest fashion)
  • Costumes were differentiated by colours, which also foreshadowed the portrayed characters
  • Considerable time was taken in designing female costumes, such as wigs and dresses (whalebone), to accurately fit male actors
  • The clothes worn by actors weighed more than actors themselves! (effort had to be increased!)
  • Another essential attire, such as makeup, affected male actors severely
  • The Sumptuary Law was a crucial factor that divided high class actors from low class actors regarding specific clothing

Shakespeare’s Involvement

  • In his earlier years, he used unemployed actors in his plays, which resulted in costumes of lower quality
  • In plays like Julius Caesar, costumes were relatively easy to design (e.g.: Toga)
  • Later, William Shakespeare used expensive Roman and Greek clothing for his royalty plays (e.g.: Chemise)
  • His high-class actors’ clothing were made out of taffeta silk fabric
  • In Titus Andronicus, costumes were dipped in animal blood to emphasize death.
  • In his last play, each costume was priced at $100 due to his popularity!

Importance and Popularity of Costumes

  • In the early 40’s costumes were heavily relied on to attract audience due to lack of props and scenery
  • High class actors were allowed to wear top notch clothes, such as broad collared shirts and collarless jackets (more audiences)
  • Queen Elizabeth I was responsible for introducing new styles of clothing to plays
  • If an actor did not wear “good clothing”, it was assumed he was from low class
  • The most noted Shakespearian actors include:
    • Edward Alleyn (1566 – 1626)
    • Robert Armin (1568 – 1615)
    • Christopher Beeston (1570 – 1638)

Traveling Companies

  • Traveling companies were groups of actors that would travel around and do their presentations, rather than attracting the audience to go and see them
  • Traveling companies were also known as traveling troupes
  • There were no theaters in England until 1576
  • Since at the time there were many outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague, the traveling actors were looked upon with suspicion
  • For a traveling company to be allowed to travel, they would first need a license.
  • Some of the Elizabethan traveling companies were: Lord Strange’s Men, Chamberlain’s Men, Admiral’s Men, and King’s Men
  • The traveling companies were obliged by rules on what type of clothing they could wear. The actors were not allowed to wear clothes that were above their social standing.

Music & Dance

  • Music was considered an effective embellishment to theatre plays (helped express emotions)
  • Reinforcement of music increased the number of audiences in theatre plays, thus allowing them to reach new heights (e.g.: William Shakespeare)
  • Elizabethan dance varied according to the social class
    • Upper Class: Foreign Influenced (The Galliard)
    • Lower Class: Passed down from one generation to the next (The Jig and the Morris Dance)

Musical Instruments

  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth
    • In this particular play, music was crucial (hautboy instrument provided an eerie atmosphere). Imagine a horror movie of today without music! It would be very confusing to comprehend.
  • Theatre Orchestra
    • The background music for plays was usually produced by regular musicians, vocally and instrumentally (choir-like today’s). Here is a popular song from one of Shakespeare’s plays. You can actually see the chorus singers creating a chorus piece using the same words sung by the main singer.

Examples of Dances

  • The Pavane (slow couple dance)
  • The Volta, or Lavolta (close to ballet dance)
  • The Galliard (easy to dance to, not hard, vigorous)
  • The Almain (accompanied by lute/keyboard music, more distinct and favorable)
  • Rufty Tufty and Strip the Willow (repetitive dance steps, country dances)

If you look at their costumes, this was how the high-class actors dressed. These clothes were extremely expensive back in the Elizabethan era. If you saw them dance, the men establishing a message indicating that they were very strong, brave, and wise. This dance was one of the most popular royal dances, because of its simple dance steps. It involved only simple footsteps and poses.

RUFFTY TUFFTY                                                                     

  • This is an example of a dance the lower-class Elizabethan actors did on special occasions and in theatre plays. Notice how the music supports this kind of dance. Is it fast-paced or soft and smooth? This demonstrates why music was so important to different dances and plays.

The Hunting Dance – Royalty Style

  • The hunting dance was from a comedy play written by Shakespeare, called Love’s Labour’s Lost. Their dance only has a repetition of simple hand gestures, clapping, and spinning; but most of all poses. Dances like these were incorporated within the play script. For example, one of the ladies would strike a pose with her bow and arrow (indicating a “hunter”)
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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