Romeo and Juliet theatre production essay.

Authors Avatar

Richard Tandy                                                                              

                  English coursework: Romeo and Juliet theatre

            production essay

  • Introduction

For this piece of coursework I will explore and explain five tense and dramatic scenes from the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Using these scenes I will explain how a production at the Globe Theatre could have been presented to the audience of the time, to maximise the drama and the characterisations.

In addition, I will consider how audience reaction and participation have changed over the centuries with varying approaches to the presentation of the story.

Before proceeding with this essay I will now briefly explain some of the factors which coincide with the requirements of this essay question. For example, I will give a brief summarization of the story of Romeo and Juliet, an outline of some details about the Globe theatre, and a brief review of the rest of the essay question, for example, some of the factors which would influence how a production at the Globe Theatre could have been presented to the audience of the time, to maximise the drama and the characterisations.

The famous story of Romeo and Juliet, based on the narrative poem, The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke is a story of two lovers, as the prologue famously refers to as “A pair of star-cross’d lovers”, who were secretly married and suddenly separated throughout their “fearful passage of their death-mark’d love”.

The Globe Theatre was, like many others such as the Rose, the Swan and the Fortune a permanent playhouse built in London in the Elizabethan times. In 1596 James Burbage, a carpenter by trade, who owned the Theatre and the Curtain Theatre ran into difficulties when he tried to renew the ground lease of the Theatre. Negotiations yielded no viable solution, and James died, leaving his son Cuthbert to resolve the problem. The latter acted with daring and imagination. With the lease due to expire at the end of that year, on 28 December 1598 he had the building dismantled by a carpenter called Peter Street and twelve workmen. It was removed to a piece of land on the other side of the Thames I Southwark, not far from the Rose.

In less than Eight months they built the Globe, the splendid “wooden O” mentioned by the chorus at the beginning of Henry V. Shakespeare, one of the five players in the Chamberlain’s company became a “householder” in the Globe, in other words owner of a share in the property. The Fortune, the Globe and the Theatre were able to accommodate audiences of between two and three thousand.


Elizabethan audiences were in some ways more sophisticated than the audiences of the twentieth century. For example, when we go to see a new play or (more likely) a new film, we expect to find the novelty in the action. Some of the situations may be familiar; we may be able to anticipate the ending; and the characters (who should not be too different from the people we meet every day) may speak lines that we have heard before in other plays and films. But we do demand a new story.

Shakespeare’s audiences had different expectations. They were happy to be given stories that they recognized, so long as the dramatist’s treatment was new and individual. It is possible to trace a source, or sources, for every one of Shakespeare’s plays. Some of Shakespeare’s plays present very well known stories-Antony and Cleopatra, for instance, or the range of plays dealing with the span of English history from the time of Richard II to the reign of Henry VI. Shakespeare’s researches were thorough: usually there is more than one source for a play. However, this is not the case in Romeo and Juliet as in this play Shakespeare relies almost entirely on a narrative poem, The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke .

The blend of interests and traditions In which Elizabethan drama took on board, such as elements from the Roman theatre as well as from Renaissance Italian and the popular Commendia dell’ arte, with its stock characters and half improvised plots, which were well known to English dramatists, as were the stately and declamatory tragedies of Seneca, combined to create a blend of interests and traditions which gave the Elizabethan drama one advantage that no modern theatre has. It made drama for the entire nation. The uninstructed groundlings flocked to it as eagerly as the lettered patrons in the covered seats. The fashionable gallant was there but so was the eager young scholar already dreaming of fame and genius.

Therefore, from the beginning the Shakespearean drama has one great freedom; it does not have to channel itself to one stratum of public taste. I can be lowbrow or highbrow according to the needs of its subject matter. But this is not its only advantage. It has, in addition, the freedom conferred by the unfettered imagination. It is not a consumer-art but an art of participation.

In Shakespeare’s day the theatre was an art full of participation. Not only did it make use of poetry, which draws the hearer into a close union with the speaker. It also employed the Ruth Draper technique of making the audience supply the visual background by imagination alone. The result was a freedom never again approached until the beginning of radio drama in the 1920s. Without waiting for tardy (late) changes of unconvincing scenery, the action can whisk from one country to another, from the deck of a ship to the streets of a city or from Mantua to Verona for example.

   However, audience participation was not the only way in which the spectator was drawn closer in unison with the speaker and conveyed a clearer picture of the drama being performed, there were many other factors that influenced this. For example, the characterizations and the language used by the characters would play as much of an important role in doing this. Also, in some cases the setting, scenery and atmosphere and props were included to add colour and excitement, for instance swirling swords in a battle scene would do this. Furthermore, In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Considering the time difference between now and then, to some extent just as in the theatre today sound effects and music, created by an orchestra or machinery would have been used at certain points to futher emphasize certain qualities of the speaker and of the drama being performed.

I will now explain, how these features and others could have been used when presenting the play Romeo and Juliet to an audience of the time at the Globe Theatre to answer the essay question.

  • Scene One:

       For my first example of a tense and dramatic scene in the play, I have chosen, and will refer to the prologue. This is the first of the scenes in the play and is therefore important in terms of the play itself, as it sets the scene for what proceeds in the rest of the performance. The scene is presented to the audience by the chorus – a single figure who is not a character and has no personality, his function is simply to explain the situation clearly to the audience.

The scene, which is relatively short, as its purpose is simply to explain the situation, uses many dramatic words and phrases in order to silence a restless audience and settle the spectators into an appropriate mood for the first scene to commence. In the scene many dramatic words and phrases are used such as: “Two households, both alike in dignity (noble, honorable), “mutiny” (violence), “star-cross’d lovers” (ill-fated lovers) and “but their children’s end, nought could remove” (But no-one could stop the deaths of their children). These dramatic words and phrases would not only grab the audiences attention and settle them down ready for the main start of the play to proceed but also enhance the speech made by the chorus and the characterizations of the chorus which could further be re-enforced by strong, passionate body language and expressive facial expressions, which would enrich the characterisations of the chorus and show emotion for the spectators to receive and interpret for themselves as part of audience participation in which, using the information given by the Chorus the spectators would, using their imagination supply the visual background and in turn, clarify for themselves what had been said. I will go into futher detail about audience participation as this coursework progresses.

In addition, music and scenery were introduced in Elizabethan and Jacobean times and, as in other Shakespearean plays such as Twelfth Night which was filled with songs and particularly Anthony and Cleopatra in which unusual sounds were created, such as “the noise of a sea-fight”, dramatic sound effects may have been used at a certain point in the scene, either to add texture or to enhance certain qualities being performed.

In this case dramatic sound effects may have been used in order to signal the end of a prologue and the commencement of the first scene. Moreover, this may have been more of a necessity than a luxury as the theatre had no curtains or blackout to indicate the end of a scene or act. Also, Shakespeare wouldn’t necessarily have indicated the ends of scenes either. Therefore, these sound effects would not only create audience anticipation and add excitement, as the spectators await the opening of the play, but also more importantly inform the audience that the start of the play was commencing, additionally this way the spectators would not get lost between the scenes.

Intervals between acts were introduced in the newer indoor theatres, whereas, as just mentioned the open-air theatres, such as the Globe tended to play without a break. The indoor theatres had an advantage in that they were covered over, so performances could be staged in bad weather and they were also lighted by candles so performances could be staged in the evening.

However, the older, amphitheatre-style theatres such as the Globe would probably have created a more superior atmosphere than the newer indoor theatres as the audience at theatres such as the Globe were probably far more varied, including the richest and the poorest, while the audiences at the Blackfriars theatre for instance, generally consisted more of those of rather higher social status; this was inevitable because the indoor theatres were more expensive. Therefore, the crowd at theatres such as the Globe, which would include those of a lower social status and wealth were probably likely to have been more inclined to show their true emotions to make their presence felt than of the crowd at the indoor theatres, dominated mainly by the possibly more reserved upper-class.


Finally, this scene, the prologue provides me with my first insight into audience participation in the Elizabethan theatre as due to it being such a short scene and one in which is to simply explain the situation, the audience would have only the choruses speech, including the dramatic words and phrases to go on. Therefore, for this scene as the chorus is explaining the situation in which the story is based upon it is important that the spectators would have to envision the situation in their mind in order to recreate the scene for themselves in order to gain a better and clearer understanding due to there being only the speech made by the Chorus to go upon.

Consequently, audience participation would be important here because the words of the Chorus alone would provide the audience only with an insight into the situation and it may also have been difficult for the audience to hear what was being said by the actors if a gallant was sitting on-stage talking as the audiences commonly talked throughout the performances, despite pleas from playwrights for silence. Therefore, as a result of their participation, the audience would understand the situation better and this in turn would also help convey the information read by the Chorus clearly into their minds.

I know from the pricing system that a social spectrum of people visited the theatre in Shakespeare’s time. In the open air theatres such as the Globe the prices varied from one penny to stand round the stage, to sixpence for a box. In the private theatres the standard entrance fee was sixpence and a stool on the stage itself cost another sixpence. Therefore, from this it is clear that the audience attending theatres such as the Globe would probably be very diverse in the sense of wealth and social status.

Audiences would include such people as landed gentry, doctors, layers, gentlemen, servants and working people of all kinds. In other words, there was a much more varied audience than for most of our theatres today.

The audience at the Globe was probably far more varied, including the richest and the poorest, while the audiences at the Blackfriars theatre generally consisted more of those of rather higher social status; this was inevitable because the indoor theatres were more expensive.

Join now!

Moreover, lots of people, especially Puritans, complained about the immoral people in playhouses, but the evidence suggests that in fact little crime was committed there.

However, gallants were conspicuous at Blackfriars, where on one occasion there was a row because a gallant sat on the stage and obscured the view of a Captain escorting an Earl’s wife.

I have chosen the prologue as one of my scenes because it is one of my favourite as it is brief, dramatic and informative as the scene informs me of the situation in which the story is based upon and uses many ...

This is a preview of the whole essay