Elizabethan Theater

Elizabethan Theater is opposite from modern theater in many ways.  Here are some differences:

                          Elizabethan Theater

Acting was not a highly paid or highly respected profession.  Actors were seen as vagrant troublemakers who promoted hard living and sin.


In the 16th century, actors traveled from town to town on a cart, looking for audiences to pay to watch them perform.  Playhouses were not constructed in London until 1576.                            

Because acting was not a respected profession, women were not allowed to act until after 1660.  Teenage boys who hadn't gone through puberty would play the roles of women, 

Going to the theater was not considered to be a fancy affair.  Plays were often crude (by modern standards).  Theaters would compete with other entertainment such as bear baiting (which involved watching and betting on bears killing dogs.

Poor people called the groundlings, or penny knaves, were famous their love of plays.  They would pay one penny to stand in front of the stage in an area called the open yard.                                  


Going to a play was a lively event.  Groundlings would frequently talk, yell, and even throw things (think rotten produce, etc.) during the play. If the audience liked or did not like the play or the actors, the groundlings would let everyone in the theater know it. Rich people would even sit on stage and make comments to the audience during the play.

The most expensive seats in a theater were the in the top row of the theater, farthest from the audience.  The cheap seats were directly in front of the stage, although people in this area stood. Rich people would want to have the most segregated and exclusive seats in the theater, away from the rowdy, poor people.

People expected to see a new play everyday in theaters.  This meant many actors and playwrights were employed to meet the demands of audiences.                                                                         

Most plays were seen at two o'clock in the afternoon.                              



                              Modern Theater

    Acting is a very highly paid profession that many people
    respect and appreciate.

    Theater houses are set up in a permanent location.
    They often stay open for decades and become part of a

    Both men and women are allowed to act on stage or in
    movies.  Men and women may also play opposite
    gender roles. 

    Going to the theater is considered to be a sophisticated
    and elegant affair.  People often go to a fancy dinner before
    and after they see a play.

    Typically going to a play is associated with the wealthy
    or the intellectual.  Tickets are usually considered more
    expensive for the average person.

    Going to a play is a more serious event.  Audiences are
    expected to be silent during the viewing of a play.  Audiences
    are reminded several times to be respectful and quiet.

    Some of the most expensive seats in a modern theater
    are the orchestra seats, which are directly in front of the stage. 
    The cheapest seats are in the back of the theater because they
    have the worst view of the stage.

    A theater will show ("run") the same play for a much
    longer time. Modern playhouses can run a play for weeks,
    months, and even years (think Broadway theaters).

    Although there are still afternoon matinees for theaters,
    the most popular showings are typically seen at night.

This page was written and created by Jessica E. Mularski, a Fairfield University Graduate student. 


Morley, Jacqueline. A Shakespeare Theater: The Inside Theatre and the First People to Perform Shakespeare's Great Plays.  Columbus: Peter Bedrick Books, 2003. Print.