Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Hi, learners, and welcome to the week three round up video. Hi, Jonathan. Hello, learners. This week we’ve been talking about Midsummer Night’s Dream, a really popular play compared to last week’s. And our first questions are around the actual business of putting on a play in Shakespeare’s time, which is something that’s captured the imaginations. I think we’ve got a lot of actors and producers in the learners. So what sort of rules would there have been in an acting company regarding actual– producing a play? Yeah, the modern roles of producer and director didn’t exist at the time. But the great thing about Midsummer Night’s Dream is, as we see Peter Quince rehearsing his troupe.
Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds We sort of get an idea that there would have been someone in the company who would have taken charge of that. And the likelihood is, in the case of Shakespeare, that it would have been Shakespeare himself. The evidence we have suggests that Shakespeare’s acting roles were relatively small, and that may well have been so that he could have been effectively something like a modern director. Equally, there would be another member of the company– it seems to have been the actor John Heminges– who would have had the kind of producer role, would have been in charge more of the business side of things. And where would they have got their sets and costumes and props from? Costumes?
Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds Very interesting question, because we were talking about the Sumptuary laws, these laws where the cosutume - the clothing you were allowed to wear, whether you were allowed to wear silk, for example, depended on your social rank. But we do know that one of the things the acting companies did was they got the secondhand clothes of courtiers and aristocrats and the well-to-do. So rather extraordinarily, on stage, the actors playing dukes and kings, although themselves obviously of low social rank, would have been wearing the real clothes of high social rank.
Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds As far as props are concerned, we’ve got very useful evidence from the diaries of the man Philip Henslowe, who ran the rival acting company to Shakespeare’s, and there’s lots of evidence there of him employing carpenters and that sort of thing to make props and bits of stage scenery, although we need to remember they didn’t have kind of full dress scenery in the way you have in later theatrical traditions. And what about the business of whether they would have– ad libbing if there were such a short rehearsal time. Did they have to make up their lines as they were going along? Yeah, the evidence seems to be that there really was a minimal amount of rehearsal.
Skip to 2 minutes and 45 seconds We know, of course, that the actors were given their individual parts and went off to learn them. But as far as we can work out, the number of complete run-throughs of a production might have been no more than about two before the play went live. And remember also, they’re repertory companies. They’re performing six days a week and performing a different play each day. New plays are constantly coming into the repertoire, old ones being revived. I mean, the memory capacity of the actor is quite extraordinary. We talked about the travelling players being paid not to put on a play, which is just bizarre. Why did they just not grant them permission? That’s a good question, isn’t it?
Skip to 3 minutes and 26 seconds I suppose there was some kind of desire, perhaps for the actors, not to make trouble. Unfortunately it’s just a brief entry in the town accounts. The background to it is not explained. It may be that there had been a- there was an expectation that they had come annually and played, and they thought the best way of avoiding trouble is just to give them the money they’d have had anyway and tell them to go away.
Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds There’s lots of documentation surviving in regional archives about touring players but very little in the way of actual records of people going to see these performances in town halls and so on. It does seem it was a matter of civic pride to have performances by the leading acting companies. It was very good for the image of a town and a way of bringing townspeople together. We don’t actually know whether the townspeople paid to see these shows or whether they were put on as a kind of public service. But there’s no doubt that touring was a key part of the theatrical economy of the time.
Skip to 4 minutes and 47 seconds From this week we have learned about how the experience of going to the theater was very different from what it was like today. They would have performed in open air. And who went to the theatre? Why weren’t they at work? Yeah, it’s a good point that performances were on in the afternoons. And indeed there were complaints from city businessmen about their apprentices taking the afternoon off work in order to go to the theatre. Obviously a lot of women didn’t work. And so there was plenty of evidence that women, middle class, lower middle class women, would go to the theatres.
Skip to 5 minutes and 25 seconds Very mixed composition of the audience. We don’t actually have records of performances being rained off. I think the assumption is that they just muddled on through whatever the weather. I guess in those days, the days before central heating, they were pretty immured to getting wet, getting cold. But of course, later in Shakespeare’s career, the company obtained that indoor playhouse at the Blackfriars so that they can perform all through the winter and not be subject to the weather. Would they have played to a full house? Did the theatres tend to be full all the time?
Skip to 6 minutes and 5 seconds Yeah, again, Henslowe’s diary, Henslowe who was proprietor of the Rose Theatre, rivals to Shakespeare, his diaries survive, and he keeps a note of the box office takings every day. And they’re very, very variable. So you can kind of work out from that that some days if it was a particularly popular play or a new play the theatre would have been full. Other days, very sparsely attended, indeed. Remember, the capacity of these theatres when people packed into the standing room, the pit, the capacity of the Globe would have been as much as 3,000. I think it would have actually been pretty rare for it to be completely full.
Skip to 6 minutes and 42 seconds So the object of the week this week is John Norden’s map of London. I love this object. I can never get tired of looking at old maps. But this is obviously not a map to find your way around with. It’s more like a picture. So who would have bought it and why? Yeah, Norden’s project was an interesting one. That he was working with these histories of the individual counties and regions of England and producing maps to accompany them. So in a way, this is bound up with a sense of the origins of local pride, local identity. But he was also working closely with Lord Burleigh, the chief minister.
Skip to 7 minutes and 27 seconds There’s actually a manuscript of Norden– of his account of Middlesex that the map of London was meant for with annotations by Burleigh. From Burleigh’s point of view, maps were very useful instruments of power, indeed perhaps of surveillance, of spying, of sort of knowing what is where. A very important part of Burleigh’s project to keep control of the nation. So a lot of these Norden maps survive only in manuscripts. Some that were printed, they were printed to be inserted into these printed books, the county histories. Those were expensive books, though, very much aimed at the libraries of gentlemen, people interested in their region.
Skip to 8 minutes and 14 seconds But they were very much aimed at an elite audience rather than a sort of wider, popular audience. So next week we are looking at Henry V, which is very timely for the anniversary of Agincourt this weekend. What sort of tips can you give the learners? And can you recommend any productions to watch? Well, Henry V one of the best known of the history plays. I guess of the history plays, Richard III, the bad king, and Henry V, the good king, are the two best known. And of course, both roles were famously played by Lawrence Olivier. I love the old Olivier film of Henry V made just before the D-Day landings, the end of the Second World War.
Skip to 8 minutes and 54 seconds And he dedicated it to the D-Day troops, very– a film loved by Churchill to sort of inspire the people in the fight against an enemy across the English Channel. And the other fascinating thing about that film, of course, those of you who have seen it, it begins with a lovely evocation of what the Globe was like, that sort of sense of the working theatre, which we’ve looked at this week. And then it goes into a more sort of cinematic mode. Then, of course, in the early 1980s, Kenneth Branagh made a version of Henry V that was much kind of grittier, more true to as it were the real experience of the soldier on the ground.
Skip to 9 minutes and 38 seconds And it’s lovely to watch those two together and sort of play them off against each other. It was also very well filmed by the BBC a year or two ago when they did their sequence of history plays under the banner title of The Hollow Crown. So there are some great versions out there. But as you say, just by good fortune, we’re coming up to the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, so a very timely play for us to be doing. Thank you very much, Jonathan. And I’ll see you next week for Henry V. See you next week, Jen. See you next week, learners. Bye-bye, now.
Week 3 round-up
In this video round-up Jonathan and Jennifer discuss themes that you raised in the week 3 activities.
Apologies for the quality of the audio in certain parts. We are again at the mercy of technology which conspired to make it a challenging round-up to record.
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