Guest Post: Puppet Shows by Toni Mount (“The Colour of Lies” Book Tour)

The_Colour_of_Lies_3DToday, I am delighted to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to my blog as part of her book tour for her latest book, “The Colours of Lies”, the seventh book in her Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery Series.

Puppet Shows

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure plays out against the background of St Bartholomew’s Fair – England’s great annual trade fair held every August – and the trouble begins with the theft of three exceptionally valuable items from a merchant’s stall: unicorn horns. The fair was also an excuse for entertainment of all kinds: acrobats, musicians, dancers, fire-eaters, and stilt-walkers among others.

Puppet shows were always a popular sideshow at the fair and Seb strikes up a brief friendship with Gerrit, a Dutch puppet-master. Although not listed at St Bartholomew’s specifically until 1600, Geoffrey Chaucer mentions ‘puppets’ and a wonderful Flemish manuscript, known as The Romance of Alexander with parts dated to both the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, has a marginal illustration of a glove-puppet show in a booth not unlike that for a Punch-and-Judy show. It has been suggested by Omar Khalaf (Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, English Department, University of Leicester) that the later parts of the manuscript – Bodley ms 264 – may have been decorated by English artists and owned by Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who used it for educational purposes in instructing his nephew Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV.

image2Bodley ms 264 showing a puppet show

The word ‘puppet’ comes from the Latin for doll – pupa – and they were also referred to as ‘poppets’ or ‘poopets’. Being light and easily portable, glove puppets were popular in medieval times, used by travelling minstrels and other entertainers to tell stories from the Bible or ancient myths and legends. It is thought that they began as ordinary gloves which had the tips of the thumb and little finger cut off to show the puppeteer’s flesh for hands and a wooden or earthenware ball, painted with features for a head, was inserted over the middle finger of the glove. The very first shows may have been performed by monks and priests who used puppets to tell Bible stories in church so it is not surprising that the Devil was often a leading antagonist in the plays. By the fifteenth century, glove puppets had become a little more sophisticated, being purposefully crafted and more detailed in character.

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A reconstruction of a Devil puppet

In 1561, the Duchess of Suffolk recorded in her accounts that she had paid two men who played upon the puppets. Shakespeare also referred to puppets and Italian puppeteers introduced marionettes or string puppets to this country in the seventeenth century, playing at fairs and markets much as before. According to a poem of the period by Samuel Butler, fireworks were used with puppet plays involving the Devil to show the perils of hellfire – not to mention the danger to the audience at the time:

Nor devil in the puppet-play be allowed
To roar and spit fire, but to fright the crowd.

Other puppet shows were versions of popular stage plays, historical stories and contemporary events, including Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot after the incident in 1605. When Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime closed the theatres in the 1650s and stage plays were forbidden, puppet plays were not included in the ban and continued as a popular entertainment – one of very few permitted at the time – as did St Bartholomew’s Fair, its commercial value being of far greater importance to Parliament than its Roman Catholic religious heritage.

In my novel, The Colour of Lies, the Dutch puppet-master takes centre stage, briefly, in the action and readers can enjoy all the fun and trouble at medieval London’s St Bartholomew’s Fair.

Sources:
‘The Romance of Alexander, the Great Lord Rivers and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Bodley 264: A Speculum for the Prince of Wales?’ by Omar Khalaf in The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2011.

http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/detail/ODLodl~1~1~33362~105860:Romance-of-Alexander-

Walter Wilkinson. Museum no. S.261-1998 at the V&A Museum, London.

 

Toni typingAbout the Author:

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown-up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include:

www.ToniMount.com

www.SebastianFoxley.com

www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at:

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/

www.facebook.com/medievalengland/

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

If you would like to purchase “The Colour of Lies”, you can buy it here: http://getbook.at/colour_of_lies/

Toni also has a free ebook for her followers, that you can download here: https://madeglobal.com/authors/toni-mount/download/

Guest Post: Was Henry IV A Usurper? By Michele Morrical

170px-king_henry_iv_from_npg_(2)Some medieval English kings have unfairly gotten a bad rap. Others are deservedly vilified (Richard III, I’m talking to you).

Our modern-day perception of English kings is largely constructed from only a few sources. Of course, we have the writings of Shakespeare which were generally based on the real events of English monarchs but had lots of extra drama added in to spice things up. We also have the writings of chroniclers who actually lived in the middle ages, but they aren’t always reliable. Just imagine if you were hired by Henry VIII to write the history of his reign. You would definitely write it in a way that reflected very well on the king. And we have modern-day historians who try to bring the past to life with new interpretations of English monarchs and their new explanations of their controversial actions.

One of the English kings who has received very little attention over the years is Henry IV, also known as Henry of Bolingbroke and Henry of Derby. The common perception is that Henry was a usurper, but was he really? Did he seize the throne from Richard II illegally or was he the rightful heir?

What was Henry IV’s claim to the throne?

To answer this question, we must go back a couple of reigns to Henry’s grandfather, King Edward III, a Plantagenet king that ruled England from 1327 to 1377. King Edward was also the nephew of King Charles IV of France through his mother Isabella. When Charles IV died childless, Edward asserted his right to the French crown as Charles’ nearest male relative. The French overruled him citing Salic Law which said inheritance could not be passed through a female line. So the throne went instead to Philip of Valois, Charles’ cousin through a completely male line. As if losing his claim to the kingdom of France wasn’t enough of a blow to Edward, Philip also confiscated Edward’s land in France. Edward was not one to take things lying down so he took military action against France and initiated the Hundred Years War.

One of King Edward’s best military commanders was his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince. The king’s son was raised and educated in preparation to be the next king and he was perfectly suited to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, there was a major problem. His repeated military expeditions around Europe caused him to become quite ill, including a raging case of dysentery. He died in 1376 at the age of 45. He had not outlived his father, therefore he never got the chance to fulfill his destiny as King of England.

After the death of the Black Prince, King Edward wrote his will and “Act of Entail” in which he named his heir. Rather than naming his eldest living son (John of Gaunt) to be the next king, he did something unusual. He instead named his grandson, Richard of Bordeaux, eldest living son of the Black Prince, to be next in the order of succession using a device called “Right of Substitution”. Essentially since the Black Prince died prematurely, his son Richard was accepted as a substitute.

After Richard, he named the next in line for succession to be John of Gaunt and the male heirs of his body, followed by his other living sons, Edmund, Duke of York, and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Interestingly enough, the “Act of Entail” document was kept secret from the public. The only people who knew about it were those named in the entail and the king’s closest confidants. It was never introduced to Parliament to put into law. Many rulers were hesitant to publicly name their heir because that gave any discontented subjects someone to rally around and overthrow the king.

If King Edward had followed traditional Salic Law rules, his eldest living son, John of Gaunt, would have been named his heir followed by Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, which would have left Richard completely out of the succession. Imagine how different the course of English history would have been if Edward had not made this decision to use the uncommon right of substitution. The inheritance would have been strictly through the house of Lancaster, cutting out the house of York. The Wars of the Roses may have never even happened.

Henry of Bolingbroke would have known about King Edward III’s act of entail and that he had been named third in line for the throne (after Richard and John of Gaunt) rather than second in line after Gaunt. Even so, being third in line to the throne wasn’t so bad for Henry. He lived a relatively comfortable life as a royal heir and spent his youth preparing to be a successful ruler like his grandfather. Henry became one of the most respected knights in Europe, he traveled abroad on crusades, and he learned it was better to work with the nobles and forge alliances rather than trying to control them. There was only one problem…Richard absolutely hated Henry. Richard was none of the things that Henry was. Richard was not strong and athletic, he did not joust, and he was not an experienced military leader. He was basically the antithesis of Edward III. Richard was terribly jealous of Henry and felt threatened that Henry or his father might one day try to wrestle the crown from his head.

Richard’s Revenge

For the first 10 years of Richard’s reign, it was assumed that Edward’s entail would be upheld by Richard but in the Parliament of 1386, Richard did something shocking. He threw out his grandfather’s entail and instead declared that his heir would be the twelve-year-old earl of March, Roger Mortimer, great-grandson of King Edward III. Roger’s mother Phillipa was the daughter and only child of King Edward’s second-born (yet deceased) son Lionel of Antwerp. Even though Lionel was deceased, Richard used the right of substitution in selecting Roger, just as Edward III had done in selecting Richard as the Black Prince’s substitute. However, it was highly unusual to name an heir through a female line, especially when there were plenty of other male heirs to choose from. Richard selected the Mortimers so that John of Gaunt, Henry of Bolingbroke, and the entire Lancastrian line would be excluded from the succession. He was putting them on notice that they better work for him instead of against him.

Richard’s declaration was met with great resistance from the lords of his realm who were already disgruntled from enduring years of his tyrannical treatment. They had been terribly unhappy about Richard’s style of kingship, lack of military experience, misguided attempts to negotiate with France, reckless financial spending, attempts to degrade the power of Parliament, and general misrule resulting from Richard’s circle of favorites. Threatening civil war and deposition, the Lords were successful in pressing Richard to exclude the minor Roger Mortimer from succession and to reinstate King Edward III’s entail naming John of Gaunt and his son Henry as the next in line to the throne.

Richard was a very spiteful and vengeful man. He would agree to a deal when he was face-to-face with the nobles, but behind their backs, he would plot to punish them for any sign of disloyalty. Over the next 10 years, he continually threatened the lords and nobles with arrest, confiscation of lands, titles, goods, and even exile if they didn’t bend to his every whim. Richard again changed the order of succession, throwing out John of Gaunt, Henry, and the Mortimers. He decided that the person who would be the least threatening to his reign would be Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was an arthritic invalid.

Henry of Bolingbroke was always at the top of Richard’s hit list but since he was such a close royal relative, Richard couldn’t afford to take him out. His reputation would have been destroyed if he used force to get the likable, respected knight out of the picture. So instead of using force, he used a 1397 civil dispute between Henry and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, as the mechanism to remove him. Richard ruled both men guilty and sentenced them both to exile: Henry for 10 years and Norfolk for life.

As if exile wasn’t punishment enough, just one year later when John of Gaunt died, Richard delivered the knock-out punch. Despite his promise to Gaunt, Richard revoked Henry’s entire Lancastrian inheritance and confiscated all of his lands and assets. Furthermore, Henry was to be considered a traitor to England. Henry of Bolingbroke had nothing left. To fall so far from being the heir to the throne down to a penniless vagabond was untenable for Henry. And there was only one person at fault: his cousin, King Richard II.

Henry’s Return to England

As Henry lived in exile, he thought about his situation and strategies for getting back what was rightly his. There weren’t many options. There was certainly no chance now at reconciliation with Richard, things had simply gone too far. The only way he would be allowed to return to England and be restored to his rightful inheritance would be if Richard was no longer the king of England.

Removing King Richard II from the throne is not something Henry could do by himself. Luckily, he had friends in high places who had also been unfairly treated by Richard. Together with several dukes and earls, Henry planned an uprising against Richard to protest his tyrannical rule. Henry landed in England on July 4, 1399, at Ravenspur in Yorkshire with only 300 men. As he traveled towards the safety of the Lancastrian stronghold, Pontefract Castle, his army grew into the thousands. Henry had become the leader of the revolution. He swore to his followers that his only intent was to defend England from Richard’s tyranny and to reclaim his Lancastrian inheritance. He promised that he would not take the throne for himself by force.

King Richard was with the royal army in Ireland at the time of Henry’s invasion. The Keeper of the Realm during his absence was his 58-year-old heir, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. Edmund knew that his nephew was a cruel despotic ruler and he instead threw in his lot with Henry. Edmund agreed to support his uprising and would not take measures to suppress his army. Edmund also believed that Henry had been treated unfairly and was perfectly within his rights to reclaim his inheritance.

So Henry’s army moved across the country unchallenged until he came to Conway Castle where King Richard was hiding. Rather than fighting, they negotiated. Henry demanded that he be allowed to return to England and that his lands be restored to him. Richard agreed but then shortly thereafter declared he had no intent to keep his promise. In fact, he was more determined than ever to see Henry dead. Henry’s army arrested Richard and took him into their possession.

While Richard was kept under lock and key in a variety of royal castles, Henry was working with English lawyers to legally reinstate his claim to the Lancastrian inheritance. They determined that the best course of action would be for Richard to sign a written resignation which would then be ratified by Parliament. After much resistance, the king finally relented and signed the document. In doing so, he stepped down from the throne and agreed to Henry’s accession, just as King Edward III’s act of entail had outlined nearly twenty-five years earlier.

The Rule of Succession in England

Was Henry right to overthrow Richard II in an attempt to restore justice to the kingdom of England? Or did he take advantage of the circumstances by claiming the throne for himself?

It all comes down to this. Were any laws broken when Edward named his grandson Richard as his heir instead of his eldest living son John of Gaunt? Likewise, did Richard break any laws when he bypassed Edward’s entail and named Edward of Langley as his heir? Did Henry break any laws when he accepted the crown for himself and deposed his cousin Richard? Should kings have to uphold entails from their predecessors or was it legal for them to change it to their own personal liking?

We cannot judge these decisions as morally right or wrong, rather we can only judge them in terms of the law or the absence of law. In England during the Middle Ages, there was no law that strictly defined the order of succession. Other European kingdoms, such as France, observed Salic Law which prohibited women from being crowned as well as their sons. Germanic kingdoms followed the semi-Salic rule which allowed a woman to inherit but only if all the men in the royal bloodline were dead.

England was a kingdom heavily influenced by their different European neighbors so England’s laws and customs were a mish-mash of the various customs immigrants had brought with them to England. Since England had never put the order of succession into a legal act, it was basically up to the current ruler to choose the next heir to the throne.

Is it any wonder England had so many disputes over control of the kingdom during the Middle Ages? With no legal rules governing the order of succession, it became open to interpretation and that’s when the royal heirs and nobility used it to their advantage. It made it much more possible to maneuver their own royal relatives into positions where they might someday have a shot at the throne themselves.

Was Henry IV a Usurper?

It is my judgment that Henry IV was not a usurper. To be a usurper, one has to either seize authority illegally or by force.

Although Henry did amass a sizable army, they did not resort to violence to solve the conflict. The army was merely a show of force so that Richard would take them seriously and understand the gravity of the situation.

Henry was careful to use lawyers to find a legal way to depose King Richard II and thus overturn his previous statute naming Edmund of Langley as his heir. With Richard deposed and all of his previous acts of Parliament voided, the order of succession had to revert back to the previous king. That would make King Edward III’s act of entail valid again and Henry of Bolingbroke next in line to the throne.

 About the Author

Michele Morrical is a writer, blogger, and amateur historian on all things Tudor and Wars of the Roses. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband, son, daughter, and many pets. You can find her writings at michelemorrical.com.

My journey into Tudor history began about 10 years ago with the TV show “The Tudors” from Showtime. As I watched the show, I wondered how much of it was really true because the storylines were more dramatic and shocking than any soap opera I had ever seen. I picked up Margaret George’s autobiography of Henry VIII and I was hooked. I’ve since read over 100 books on the Tudor period and I’m currently writing my own book about the Wars of the Roses

Guest Post by Tony Riches – Telling the Stories of the Tudors

tudor books

It began with my research for a novel about the life of Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the Welsh town of Pembroke. I decided to write it as an historical fiction novel in the hope of reaching a wider audience, including those who might never read a textbook about the Tudors. I also enjoy the challenge of ‘filling the gaps’ in the historical record and bringing these men and women to life.

I’d collected more than enough material for a book – and discovered that although Henry features (with varying degrees of accuracy) in many works of fiction, there were no novels devoted to telling his amazing story. I believe this was partly because Henry had been labelled as dull and miserly, when in fact he was an extravagant gambler, who spent a fortune on clothes, knew how to broker peace and brought an end to the Wars of the Roses.

I also discovered there were no novels about Henry’s Welsh grandfather, Owen Tudor, or Owen’s son, Jasper Tudor, who helped Henry become king. The Tudor trilogy provided the perfect ‘vehicle’ for Henry to be born in the first book, ‘come of age’ in the second and become King of England in the third.

I’m pleased to say the books of the Tudor trilogy became best sellers in the US, UK, and Australia, with the final book being the only historical fiction novel shortlisted for the Amazon Kindle Storyteller award. (Henry was a runner up but I won a Kindle Oasis and a bottle of good Champagne.)

The challenge I then faced was how to follow a successful trilogy. I’d enjoyed developing the character of Henry’s daughter, Mary Tudor, and realized the story of how she became Queen of France is little known. (In the TV series ‘The Tudors’ Mary was ‘merged’ with her sister Margaret – and some people understandably confuse her with her brother’s daughter, also Mary Tudor.)

I wrote Mary – Tudor Princess, which become my best-selling book last year, then followed up with my latest book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. Readers are probably familiar with Charles Brandon’s story of how he risked everything to marry Mary Tudor against the wishes of her vengeful brother, Henry VIII. What they might not know is how Brandon found himself seriously out of his depth fighting Henry’s wars in France, or that after Mary’s death he married his fourteen-year-old ward, wealthy heiress Lady Katherine Willoughby.

Now I have two ‘sequels’ to the Tudor Trilogy, with the five books forming a series providing a continuous narrative throughout the reign of the two King Henrys. Where to go next?  All the books are now available as audiobooks and are being translated into Spanish and Italian. I’ve also been recording podcasts about the stories of the Tudors each month, (see https://tonyriches.podbean.com/.)  

I’m now enjoying researching and writing the amazing story of what became of Katherine (Willoughby) Brandon after the death of Charles. Her story deserves to be told – and leads right up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I and my planned next series, which will explore the fascinating world of the Elizabethan Tudors.

 

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in image2Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon – Tudor Knightimage3

By Tony Riches

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

 

From the author of the international bestselling Tudor Trilogy comes a true story of adventure, courtly love and chivalric loyalty. 

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the King’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell. 

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen? 

 

Guest Post: Step Back 400 Years and Take a Look Inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theater- By Cassidy Cash

Attending a play at Shakespeare’s Globe was a fascinating experience quite different from going to a theater today.

unnamedGlobe Theater from the Outside

The first time London opened a theater where patrons could come to see a production, as opposed to traveling players going to the audience in noble homes or private parties, was when James Burbage constructed The Theater in London when William Shakespeare was just 12 years old. 16th century England was experiencing this new form of entertainment for the first time, with people like William Shakespeare creating a theater going event for the very first time. Here is an overview of what it would have been like if you were a Tudor going to see a play in Shakespeare’s Globe.

800px-Shakespeare´s_Globe_(HDR)_(8162098235)Steve Collis from Melbourne, Australia

No One Dimmed the Lights

No dark theater aisles here. Despite not having electricity, the Elizabethan playwrights were especially good at using the one source of light they had available to them: The sun.

William Shakespeare himself was quite innovative at using sunlight, improving on the design of Burbage’s The Theater with The Globe, which was designed specifically to utilize the sunlight in particular. With its open ceiling and round circle shape, the theater allowed the sunlight to stream in during the afternoon when plays were most often performed, and shine on the stage itself to illuminate the actors as they played.

800px-The_Globe_Stage_(8749872779)Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK

Standing Room Only

In what would most likely be called an “orchestra pit” today, the Globe theater was designed so that the bulk of the audience stood in an open area just beyond the stage called the yard. The stage itself was an Apron stage, designed to jut out into the audience so that when actors were performing on stage they were literally staring at the audience members as they performed. In fact, specific theater conventions like the aside, where actors ask the audience for advice or have a conversation that only the audience (and not the other characters on stage) know about, worked extremely well in this environment precisely because the audience was involved in the play itself.

It wasn’t all standing room only, however. Along the outside of the yard stood three levels of higher priced seats where you could sit in the Gallery and observe the play from a seat which was often covered from the elements like rain or snow which groundlings were not protected from in the yard. Theatergoers were allowed to pay extra to have a cushion in the gallery seats, but for most patrons, it was simply a wooden bench.

Despite the humble comforts, a wooden bench seems to modern theatergoers used to plus velvet seats in neatly arranged rows, these wooden seated gallery tickets were high priced because they tailored to the nobility. It was only the rich and high-class citizens who were allowed to sit in the gallery.

An example of an Apron Stage jutting out into the audience at The Globe, Melbourne. 

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An example of an Apron Stage jutting out into the audience at The Globe, Melbourne. Steve Collis from Melbourne, Australia

The Audience was Smelly

In Elizabethan England, bathing was not an activity people did every single day like proper 21st-century hygiene would suggest. In fact, hygienic in general were of the sparse variety for the poor and lower class citizens who frequented The Globe theater which meant when you walked in, you smelled a cornucopia of rank odors. From the mud on people’s shoes to the urine, feces, animal dung, sweat, beer, and food, the atmosphere inside the theater was anything but refined and in actually was quite pungent.

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With so many people crowded into the yard, the sound was significant, and the crowd often became quite rowdy. From the book “Shakspere to Sheridan; a book about the theatre of yesterday and to-day”

No One Whispers


Despite the modern reputations of theaters as a place similar to libraries where people are supposed to speak in hushed tones, if they speak at all, inside The Globe theater the sounds were loud and rancorous. Particularly in the yard where the poor and groundlings gathered to watch the plays, they had a reputation for being obnoxious, heckling the actors, yelling at performances they did not approve of, and even throwing things if they were disgusted at the portrayals before them.

Disapproval from the audience took multiple forms in that audience members would express displeasure at the actions of the character, disapproving for example, of how one king handled the historical situation. However, the audience’s displeasure with the actors themselves, including the ability to find the actor believable in a particular role, was a crucial aspect of acting on stage in Elizabethan England. If the audience did not like the actor themselves or felt the performance was done poorly, that actor would not be kept on in the company.

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They Ate Hazelnuts like Popcorn

Attending a play at the Globe had, in some ways, more similarity with going to a movie theater than to a stage performance. Members of the audience would often bring in snacks, food, and drinks to consume while watching a production in the same way people in the United States often buy popcorn when going to see a movie.

In addition to the spectators bringing in food to eat while watching a show, there were often vendors in and around the theater selling ale, beer, and hazelnuts for the patrons to eat at the show. In excavations of Elizabethan theaters, archaeologists have uncovered spoons, bottles, shells of oysters and hazelnuts, as well as the remnants of various fruits and nuts.

Shakespeare's_Globe_Theatre_-_panoramio_(1)

The Tiring House is the part inside this little triangle shaped section over the roof of the apron stage. It was used to house props, as an entrance point for spirits who needed to descend from heaven, as well as musicians to sit when playing for the accompaniment of the action on stage. Jeff Hitchcock

There was Music

We are so used to the idea of a soundtrack today that it may come as a surprise to you that music played a pivotal role in Shakespeare’s performances. Whether it was a musician sitting in the Tiring House above the stage playing flourishes at the entrance or exit of a character, or it was musicians being included in the actions of the play through play-within-a-play or a character singing a song, the music was an integral part of what was happening on the stage.

Characters interacted with music on stage much more in Shakespeare’s day than they did now. For example, today’s audience is used to a soundtrack playing the background, or a tense trill of music increasing in pace as we watch a crime show to indicate the bad guy is about to appear.

However, for William Shakespeare’s cast of characters, the character (as opposed to just the actor playing the character) would have been aware of and interacting with the music which was included in the plot of the story. Unlike modern theaters which have an orchestra pit, Shakespeare’s musicians would have had a place in the cast, seats off to the side of the stage, or would have sat above the stage itself in the Tiring House to play on their cue.

 

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What you can see on the stage now is similar to the kind of background all of Shakespeare’s plays performed at The Globe would have used in production. 

There was Limited Background Scenery


Large-scale scenery paintings to stand behind the actors as they perform a scene on stage was a theater convention invented after Shakespeare. For William Shakespeare, his actors did have some special effects like thunder, stage blood, and even descent of heavenly spirits from the skies, were all available to Shakespeare as well as used creatively and profusely. However, when it came to the set design, background scenery was kept to a minimum.

Instead, actors on stage brought essential props with them, like swords, crowns, or even a throne, grave, or other items which would indicate their location. Largely, when it came to describing where a character was at, or what he was doing, instead of relying on set design, Shakespeare’s plays relied on the dialogue of the characters themselves, which is one reason Shakespeare’s plays contain so many long speeches. The characters are describing for you what they want you to understand where they are and what’s happening.

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17th century English actor Thomas Betterton in a scene from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father confronts him in his mother’s chamber. From Nicholas Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare’s works (1709). Here, Betterton’s wife Mary scandalously played Hamlet’s mother in a time when women on stage were considered notoriously indecent.


There Were No Women on Stage

In Shakespeare’s day, it was illegal for a woman to appear on stage. It was considered indecorous at best, and outright immoral at worst. Therefore, Shakespeare’s playing companies were completely male casts with young boys playing the parts of women. With their higher voices, smooth skin, and excellent costumes, they could pass for women on stage.

It wasn’t purely a young man’s higher voice and costume that allowed them to appear as a woman on stage, however, makeup played a key role in this illusion as well. For Shakespeare’s acting company, anyone appearing on stage white-faced, covered with a lime-based makeup paint which made the skin appear white, was automatically known to be a woman because only women wore this makeup. Famously, Queen Elizabeth was quite fond of this makeup.

The Plays Were Not at Night


The elegant time to attend a theater production these days is the evening show of 7:30pm. However, for Elizabethans, they did not have electricity, so their day started and ended with the sun. Therefore, the work day for most Elizabethans wrapped up in the afternoon, and they were home by 5 for dinner. That’s why most productions at The Globe happened around 2:00pm, because it’s after work, before dinner, and while there was still enough daylight to be able to see inside the theater.

Times and theater going may have changed significantly since Shakespeare was staging productions at The Globe (God Bless You, Indoor Plumbing), but one thing remains the same: the power and triumph of Shakespeare performances carry right through to the 21st century, ready on any stage to bring a great story to life.

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cassidycash headshotCassidy Cash, is the host of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes listeners behind the curtain and into the real life of William Shakespeare. Cassidy believes that in order to understand and perform Shakespeare’s plays, understanding the history of the man who wrote them is essential. She uses art, animated short films, and a podcast to help you learn something new about the bard. When she is not researching Shakespeare, she homeschools two boys, enjoys cooking new recipes, and drinking too much coffee. Cassidy lives in Birmingham, AL with her husband, Tim, a mountain of books, more pets than what’s reasonable. Connect with Cassidy on Twitter @thatshakespeare, or at http://www.cassidycash.com