Hello Duke! (Is it courtesy to curtsy here first?) I'm in a Shakespeare seminar and our final is tomorrow, and I just stumbled across your blog and found it absolutely fascinating. As you are both an actor and academic, I was curious what are some limits of Elizabethan staging that you've noticed and have actually added to the dramatic effect (no lighting, curtains, etc.)? I noticed that you were writing on how the addition of modern elements to the Globe was a terrible idea - I agree!
Hello! I actually find that the “limitations” of a early modern staging are not limitations at all. Early modern plays were designed to work perfectly in the spaces playwrights had available and with the limited technology they had on had (for instance, actors didn’t need microphones because a space like the Globe is built to resonate like the inside of a guitar). The only thing required is the audience’s imagination. Consider the prologue to Henry V, where the chorus begs the audience to
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
In much the same way, characters will often draw attention to the time of day or the weather. We don’t need any light or sound effects to know what the weather’s like up on the ramparts at Elsinore because Hamlet tells us: “The air bites shrewdly; It is very cold.” You can act midnight scenes in broad daylight so long as your characters make those conditions clear: “Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out.” What’s great about this is that there’s nothing at all to distract from the performers and the text. No lights, so sound, no fancy props or costumes. It’s all about the story. That, in my opinion, is a huge asset, and it’s a large part of the reason I prefer early modern theatre. It doesn’t need a bunch of expensive electronic gimmicks to work. That’s real theatre.