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Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642

R.B Graves

Publication Year: 2009

R. B. Graves examines the lighting of early modern English drama from both historical and aesthetic perspectives. He traces the contrasting traditions of sunlit amphitheaters and candlelit hall playhouses, describes the different lighting techniques, and estimates the effect of these techniques both indoors and outdoors.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Offered here is a survey of English theatrical lighting from the rise of professional acting troupes in London to the close of the playhouses by act of Parliament in 1642. This period—which, for convenience, I refer to as Shakespearean—saw plays performed in a variety of venues, each with its own kind of illumination...

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1. Light on the Play

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pp. 1-9

When the pedantic Chronicler of Ben Jonson’s masque News from the New World boasts that he will tell how many candles lit its presentation at Whitehall, Jonson ridicules him just as scornfully as we should judge a modern critic who could think of nothing better than to count the number of spotlights...

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2. Tudor and Early Stuart Lighting Equipment

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pp. 10-25

Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline plays refer to lights and lighting instruments that are familiar, if not commonplace, today. The lights most frequently mentioned in dialogue and stage directions—candles, tapers, torches, and lanterns—impose no large obstacles to an understanding of early English staging...

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3. Early Lighting Systems

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pp. 26-64

When John Brayne built the Red Lion playhouse in Whitechapel in 1567 and he and his brother-in-law James Burbage built the Theater in Shoreditch in 1576, they presumably based their designs on some idea or cluster of ideas about theater planning that they had learned by practical experience or through written sources...

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4. Afternoon Performances at the Outdoor Playhouses

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pp. 65-85

Sunlight flooding a platform stage is a familiar picture to anyone who has glanced at the many conjectural reconstructions of Elizabethan and Jacobean public playhouses. We see actors standing at the front of the stage bathed in bright light, even if darkness engulfs the tiring-house facade and galleries around them...

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5. Illumination of the Outdoor Playhouses

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pp. 86-124

Besides the natural effects of sun and clouds, the playhouses themselves affected the quality of the daylight that illuminated them. The configurations of the amphitheaters built in Shakespeare’s London may never be determined to our complete satisfaction, of course, but from the Swan drawing...

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6. Daylight in the Indoor Playhouses

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pp. 125-157

In contrast to the large amphitheaters that “lay partly open to the Weather, and . . . alwaies Acted by Daylight,” hall playhouses such as the Cockpit in Drury Lane, Blackfriars, and Salisbury Court were “small to what we see now, . . . had Pits for the Gentry, and Acted by Candle-light.”...

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7. Theatrical Lighting at Court

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pp. 158-174

Long before they established professional indoor playhouses, troupes of adult and boy players had acted frequently before Tudor monarchs under artificial light in the halls of state. By the time of Queen Elizabeth, responsibility for the lighting of these performances fell primarily to the Revels Office in the queen’s household...

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8. Artificial Light in the Indoor Playhouses

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pp. 175-200

Having considered the availability of daylight in the private playhouses and the use of artificial light at court, we can now attempt to make sense of the sparse references to artificial light at the private playhouses. I distinguish between artificial light and natural light at these indoor playhouses...

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9. Property Lights and Special Effects

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pp. 201-217

Besides the general illumination of the playhouses, various kinds of lighting utensils and fireworks were used as practical stage properties and in special effects. Stage directions call for familiar candles, tapers, lanterns, and torches as well as such curiosities as suns, moons, blazing stars...

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10. Illuminating the Scene: The Duchess of Malfi at the Globe and Blackfriars

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pp. 218-236

Recent scholarship, in particular the Records of Early English Drama project, and the discoveries of the foundations of the Rose and Globe playhouses have provided us with a more complex view of early modern English theaters and staging than was true only some fifty years ago, when it was common to speak of “the Elizabethan theater.”...


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pp. 237-268


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pp. 269-275

Author Bio

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pp. 276

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386697
E-ISBN-10: 0809386690
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329342
Print-ISBN-10: 0809329344

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 35 b/w halftones
Publication Year: 2009