R. B. Graves

in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697861
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature


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In early modern theatre in England, the physical orientation of the amphitheatres vis-à-vis the sun and the frequent placement of a ‘heavens’ above their stages suggest that attempts were made to shield the stage from the elements, including direct sunlight. The general effect at the amphitheatres is a well-shaded stage without strong contrasts of light and dark due to direct sunlight. Stage lighting tends to be highly directional, emanating from two distinct positions in front of the actors, but the overall lighting of the Elizabethan amphitheatres came from many directions, from all around the actors, or nearly so. There is evidence that actors regularly employed daylight in conjunction with candlelight to illuminate their indoor theatres. When pre-existing halls were converted into playhouses, certain modifications that affected the introduction of daylight may have been necessary. The steady, overall illumination of the amphitheatres and hall theatres, far from imposing a restriction on the actors and playwrights, meant that even in scenes of pretended darkness the audience could see and respond to the visual media of the actors' craft.

Keywords: England; amphitheatres; stage lighting; sunlight; daylight; candlelight; playhouses; illumination; hall theatres; darkness

Article.  6522 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)

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