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The Elizabethan Stage
Drama was the prime means of public entertainment during Shakespeare's time. Traveling actors went around the country and could be hired by those who wanted their services. London was growing as a trade center and merchants arrived from many lands. Also, the Tudor monarchy preferred to stay in the capital. These twin factors helped the companies of actors to prosper. They acted regularly before audiences at places that became established as centers for actors. Theater-houses like the "Globe", the "Curtain", and the "Fortune" were built. Shakespeare's company owned the "Globe" which was patronized by the Lord Chamberlain and hence, was successful.
The "Globe" was an open-air theater. Plays were staged in the afternoon (there was no artificial lighting). The stage jutted out into the audience, the majority of which, stood on the ground around the stage. They were called "groundlings". Other spectators paid higher prices to sit in the galleries round about.
There were three openings at the back of the stage - one in the center and one on each side - hidden by a thick curtain. The stage- floor often had one or more trap doors, useful for the speedy disappearance or re-appearance of characters, especially ghosts. Above the stage was a balcony, usually used for love scenes. There was no stage scenery though props were widely used. Black stage hangings were need for tragic plays and colorful curtains for comedies or "light" plays.
Actors on the Shakespearean stage were often youths. Boys with high-pitched voices were trained from early years, usually to take women's parts, women not being allowed on the stage.
Measure for Measure, first published in 1623, was probably written in 1604. It was, thus, composed just before the writing of the great tragedies in which Shakespeare's powers were at their height. It does not seem to have been performed again until 1662, and in fact, until recently, it was not popular on the stage in spite of its theatrical craftsmanship. Despite its lack of popularity, Measure for Measure masterfully presents various Themes, characters, and problems. Shakespeare's contemporaries would have probably called the play a tragi-comedy, a new genre in those days, which is not just a loose mixture of tragedy and comedy, but an independent form of dramatic composition. Measure for Measure is indeed one of Shakespeare's impressive achievements, as it deals with moral issues, character development, and plot construction.