Elizabethan experience of the Theatre

Including the commedia dell’arte


  • Large square stage—lines repeated to each side
  • Open air –no lighting
  • Noisy audience –no microphone
  • Alternative distractions available –ale sellers, bear baiting, prostitutes plying their trade, hot pie sellers etc
  • Tiered seating –upper classes in higher rows, social class distinctions
  • Few props
  • 1 penny, quite expensive, could be a day’s wage
  • few women I audience
  • no women in the cast – so love scenes????
  • The Commedia dell’arte:

This was a variety of theatre born in Italy and comprised of improvisation within a fairly structured framework. That is the characters were predetermined and the basic plot but the actors would improvise within that and had to be very good at working off the lines of others. The professional actor was born here.

Actors were much prized who could think on their feet and who could exaggerate, embellish and wring the tears or laughs out of the audience.

Typical features of the commedia dell’arte were the stock characters, the lazzi or humorous interruptions which had nothing to do with the play.


Extract from an article (see full doc. The Commedia Dell’arte)

Read from:
“Commedia, despite being an Italian art form, has had a great influence on English. Let’s start off with a few of the basics: ”

Show How Shakespeare highlights the issue of young love in the play Romeo and Juliet

What issues arise?

  • Parental choice / decision
  • Duty
  • Purpose of marriage
  • Why young people weren’t given a choice
  • Forced marriage i.e. arranged


What points is Shakespeare making?

  • Mention his own background: Anne – forced marriage (shot gun wedding!), daughter Susanna aged 13 when he wrote the play, (same age as Juliet).
  • By changing the attitude of Brooke’s poem he is being more sympathetic to the lovers; is he suggesting that his audience reconsider their attitude towards young love?
  • Forcing a young couple to marry for whatever reason can lead to tragedy and everybody losing.
  • Young people can be mature and know their own minds; if they can take a decision to kill themselves surely they can take a decision to love and marry.


What aspects of the play to use in support? And use quotes!

  • Romeo’s apparent fickleness, obsession with Rosaline, quickly transferred to Juliet…but whereas the other love was cerebral, from a distance and one-sided, this love is very physical and rooted in mutual passion. This is, of course, one reason why parents didn’t feel their children were mature enough to make this kind of decision for themselves and didn’t give them the credit for emotional maturity, but relied instead on the centuries old belief that love would grow (or at least liking!)
  • Juliet’s parents say that if she gives her consent then so will they…
  • Juliet’s mother explains that she was already married at Juliet’s age, and what marriage ‘gets’ for a girl, whereas the nurse is much more earthy!…
  • Juliet’s response is dutiful…
  • Later, of course, their attitudes harden against her consent…both threaten her…
  • Juliet’s response this time is openly defiant and then outwardly submissive while inwardly plotting her own strategy…
  • The Friar’s reason for marrying them is altruistic…
  • The dramatic use of omens, dreams and imaginings impress on the audience the inevitability of the tragedy…
  • Separately Romeo and Juliet’s mature decisiveness over what to do: Juliet goes to the Friar for help; refuses to marry Paris; takes the potion despite the possible consequences, calmly and resolutely; Romeo is much more hot-headed and less calm but no less resolved to break the terms of his banishment and risk death; gets hold of the poison proving he’s not such a push-over; battles all the odds to get to Juliet one last time, including having to kill Paris, and then with no delay or time for second thoughts, takes the poison.
  • Speeches at the end by: the Friar: admonitory; The Prince: accusing; the fathers: accepting of the blame and poignant as they make the first tentative steps towards a new friendship through their mutual sorrow.


See now Useful Quotes doc and the text itself!