A Midsummer Night's Dream: theatrical conventions of the period

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: theatrical conventions of the period

Elizabethan Theatre Characteristics

  • “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was written by William Shakespeare during the late 16th century. During this period, theatrical plays were mostly performed in outdoor playhouses, like the Globe Theatre.
  • It was common for male actors to play all roles, including female characters. Thus, characters like Hermia, Helena, and Titania would have been performed by boys or young men in Elizabethan times.
  • Costumes were very important for characterization as scenery and props were minimal. The audience had to rely heavily on dialogue and costumes to understand characters and their status.

Acting Styles and Techniques

  • The acting style of the period was very physical with a lot of emphasis on gestures and exaggerated expressions to ensure that even audience members far from the stage could understand the plot and character emotions.
  • Use of the upper stage area, the ‘balcony’, was common. This could have been leveraged in scenes such as Puck charming the lovers while they sleep.
  • The convention of direct audience interaction, or ‘breaking the fourth wall’, was commonly used in this period. Characters frequently speak in asides or direct soliloquies to the audience.

Sensory Elements in Theatre

  • Music and sound effects were widely used in Elizabethan theatre. They helped to set the mood, provide dramatic emphasis, and give cues to the actors.
  • There would have been limited stage decoration. The emphasis was on the text and the actors’ performances to create the world of the play.
  • Bright daylight performances were the norm, with no use of artificial lighting. As a result, performances heavily relied on timing and weather.

Theatrical Themes and Audience Preferences

  • Supernatural elements - such as witchcraft, magic, and fairies - were widely accepted and understood during this period. This fact plays a crucial role in the acceptance and understanding of various plots within “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
  • Elizabethan audiences enjoyed puns, wordplay, and humour, all of which are present in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
  • Plays often included moral lessons or commentaries on contemporary society, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is no exception. It explores themes such as love, marriage, societal norms, and the relationship between reality and illusion.