Theatre in the Age of Shakespeare


The theatre in Shakespeare’s time was much different than it is today. Authors wrote plays for the masses, especially those who couldn’t read or write.

The theatre changed a lot during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The authorities didn’t like it and didn’t allow acting in the city itself. They thought it had a bad influence on people and kept them from going to church. Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, loved acting and helped the theatre become popular.

As time went on more and more popular theatres emerged outside city walls. This was considered an unsafe area with crime and prostitution.

Shakespeare’s theatre was full of life. People did not sit all the time and it was not quiet during the performance. The audience could walk around, eat and drink during the play. They cheered, booed and sometimes even threw objects at the actors.



Theatres were open arenas or playhouses that had room for up to three thousand people. They were structures made mainly of wood. There was no heating and actors got wet when it rained. The stage was higher and there was an open pit in front of it where most of the people could stand in. Richer people and noblemen sat in the gallery. There was almost no scenery because the dialogue was the most important part of the play. Colourful and well-designed costumes were very important and told the people about the status of a character. Women never performed in plays, so young boys played female characters. The performances took place in the afternoon because it was too dark at night.


There was no stage crew as there is today. Actors had to do everything themselves - from making costumes to setting the stage.

Plays were organized by acting companies. They performed about 6 different plays each week because they needed money to survive. They had almost no time for rehearsals.

The companies in Shakespeare’s time had a hierarchical system.

  • The company belonged to shareholders and mangers. They were responsible for everything and got most of the money when the company was successful. Sometimes they even owned there own buildings.
  • Actors worked for the managers and after some time became a permanent member of the company.
  • Apprentices were young boys were allowed to act in menial roles. They also played females characters in plays.

Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the Admiral’s Men were the two most important companies in London at that time. Among the most famous theatres during were the Globe, the Swan and the Fortune.


The Reconstructed Globe Theatre in London



Related Topics



  • apprentice = a boy who learns to become an actor
  • audience = the people who watch the play
  • authority = here: the people who were the queen’s government and in charge of keeping law and order
  • boo = to shout “boo” if you don’t like what the actors have showed
  • considered = thought to be
  • emerge = come up
  • especially = above all, mainly
  • female = woman
  • influence = power
  • menial = not important
  • nobleman = a member of the highest social class
  • performance = act, show
  • permanent = forever
  • pit = lower place, lower area
  • popular = liked by many people
  • prostitution = the work of prostitutes
  • rehearsal = practise before the performance
  • responsible = in charge of
  • scenery = a painted background on a stage
  • set = to prepare the stage for the performance
  • shareholder = person who invests money in a company and wants to get a profit in return
  • stage crew = people who work on the stage, prepare the setting etc...
  • status = position, rank
  • structure = building
  • survive = to continue to work and be successful
  • well-designed = well-made