History Of Elizabethan Theatre

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Melodrama was the primary form of theatre during the 19th century, despite other influences, and became most popular by 1840. Melodrama is still used today, however in the 1800’s its themes were based around romantic, supernatural or exotic. In the 1820’s they became more familiar in settings and characters; and in the 1830’s they became more elevated: “gentlemanly” melodrama.
Melodrama comes from “music drama”- music was used to increase emotions or to signify characters. It usually contains a simplified moral universe; good and evil are embodied in stock characters. It is usually a very episodic form: the villain poses threat, the hero escapes, etc. and has a happy ending. Usually consists of 2-5 acts and highlights many special effects e.g. fires, explosions, floods, earthquakes. A dramatic form that does not observe the laws of cause and effect and that exaggerates emotions and emphasises plot or action at the expense of characterisation.

Before the age of Elizabethan drama, plays tended to be based on religious themes. Elizabethan dramas however, focused more on secular issues. Learning about the “heroic past” of their country was important to England’s playgoers. Tragedies of the era focused on creating a sense of both terror and pity in the audience. Shakespeare was the master of tragedy (Hamlet, Othello). In saying that, for one of the first times, English patrons could go to the theatre for a good laugh. Again, Shakespeare was the most popular, other writers such as Ben Johnson (The Alchemist) enjoyed poking fun at society and its institutions. One of the appeals for Elizabethan playgoers was the theatre’s bawdiness. Sexual innuendo and sexual situations were common features of many plays.

Biomechanics is a system of actor training introduced in the early 1920’s a Russian actor, director, and teacher named Vsevold Meyerhold. Through his training, Meyerhold sought to develop actors whose work would convey geometric precisions, an acrobatic lightness and agility, and a rhythmic, musical sensibility. The technique emphasised the development of skills from traditional, non-realistic theatrical sources such as commedia dell’arte, Russian folk theatre, circus performance, Japanese Kabuki theatre, east-Asian dance, and pantomime. Soviet ideology eventually put a tragic end to Meyerhold and his work. He was executed in 1940 for practicing “formalist” theatre, which was considered “antagonistic” to the Soviet people. Although the teaching of Biomechanics was officially forbidden, the system was passed on secretly as an oral tradition until the “glasnost” period and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union.

Greek tragic drama originated in the city of Athens, where it also reached its heights in the fifth century B.C. in the masterpieces of the three great Greek tragedians: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Tragedy evolved from the choral lyric poem in honour of Dionysus, a young god whose worship began to spread into Greece from the north about 700 B.C. About the middle of the sixth century B.C., an Athenian by the name of Thespis introduced the first actor who was separate from the leader of the chorus. This actor impersonated various characters and delivered monologues or conducted dialogues with the leader of the chorus, often changing costumes several times and taking several roles during the performance. After Thespis came Aeschylus, who added a second actor, which at once enlarged the scope of the action, made possible true dialogue, and allowed visualisation of tragic conflict. This new literary form- Greek tragic drama- was developed, the, from myths, mostly derived from the Homeric epics and related sources; from choral odes, derived from primitive songs to Dionysus; and from the dialogue of the actors. A Greek tragedy was a musical tragedy.