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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: July ::
Re: Renaissance Audiences
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1523  Monday, 28 July 2003

From:           Kathy Dent <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Jul 2003 10:30:06 +0100
Subject: 14.1515 Renaissance Audiences
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1515 Renaissance Audiences

Jane Drake Brody writes:

>I am not sure that the comparison between Renaissance audiences and
>today's audiences who are "entertained" by TV twenty-four hours a day
>can be made.  Additionally, I suspect that Renaissance audiences were
>far more attentive to verbal cues and rhythms than their more
>visually-oriented descendants. I am not meaning to suggest that the pit
>wasn't rowdy, but I doubt that it generally dismissed the play as easily
>as our over stimulated youth can do.  I suspect that the Renaissance
>audience was far more akin to attendants at a revival meeting, shouting
>to the minister and generally having a great time.  This behaviour is
>not rude because it is in sync with the "show" itself and contributes to
>the experience for everyone.  I doubt that any revivalist would want a
>silent audience, but it is also true that the revivalist would despair
>over an audience whose attention was more on itself than on "the Word."

I was not intending to suggest that Renaissance audiences would be the
same as today's, but only that the Globe's audience is different and
behaves differently from an audience in a darkened and silent auditorium
- and this difference is a positive one.  I think it's dangerous to
speculate about how Shakespeare's contemporaries would have reacted to
his work, but there is evidence that some playwrights of the period
thought that their audiences were insufficiently attentive. I'm very
dubious about the analogy of the revival meeting: surely this is a type
of communal event that owes its distinctive form to African culture.

The amount that the Renaissance players spent on costume also suggests
that there was some element of spectacle going on for the audience and
the kind of displays laid on for the royal processions does not suggest
that the Elizabethans were immune to a bit of visual stimulation.
Perhaps we haven't changed so much as we think we have.

Kathy Dent

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