The early days of mediaeval Europe witnessed the introduction of liturgical drama and miracle plays, founded on events chronicled in the New and Old Testaments. In England, as in France, the church became the cradle of the drama. Then followed mimed mystery plays that later developed into secular pantomime. Following the examples set by the early Romans, these religious pantomimes degenerated into licentious spectacles, and historical comedies and classic drama were introduced to offset them.

Real Theatres Of The Middle Ages

Following the days of the ancient theatre and up to the beginning of the seventeenth century all plays had been enacted by the elite of society in public halls or colleges. In that period real housed-in theatres as we now know them made their appearance in France. The most noted one of these was the Hotel de Bourgogne, a vast, low-ceilinged edifice that accommodated about two thousand persons. The stage of this, theatre was of extraordinary depth, and it was divided in the middle by draperies when the scenes did not require its full depth. Rows of candles, that required constant snuffing, were placed along the front of the stage to aid in its illumination. Above the stage itself was suspended a chandelier with four branches, each containing a long yellow candle. There were in the auditorium two superposed rows of boxes, each box fitted with wooden benches to hold some dozen spectators plunged in semi-obscurity. The pit, in which the audience stood or moved about at will, was no better lighted than the boxes.

The Dawn Of Good Drama In England

About the time that the Hotel de Bourgogne and other real theatres were created in France there appeared as an actor and playwright on the English stage that marvel of genius William Shakespeare, who later became the manager of the famous Globe theatre in London. The Globe theatre was merely a summer theatre, open for three or four months in the year. Judging from the vivid descriptions of the theatres of that period the manners of theatregoers were extremely unconventional. Although an active interest in the drama pervaded all classes, respectable young girls were not allowed to attend the theatre in those days, the audience in the better parts of the house being mainly composed of the gay set. The women in the boxes wore velvet masks to hide their faces and smoked pipes during the performance. The few seats in the theatre were stools, and people of quality brought their own stools. There stood in the Globe theatre of which Shakespeare was manager an immense stoup of English ale, from which every man could quench his thirst at will.

Early English Theatres

The establishment of permanent theatres in England dates from the latter part of the sixteenth century. This period marked the beginning of the Elizabethan drama. Female characters of the matronly type of Lady Macbeth were impersonated by men, and for the more delicate, maidenly parts, such as Juliet and Imogen, recourse was had to the services of young men, who were remunerated in proportion to their beauty and distinction. The first of these permanent theatres were erected in the fields outside of London, but under the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor and City Council. Among these were "The Theatre," "The Curtain" and "The Blackfriars Theatre." They were inclosed within side walls, with the center space open to the air, while against the side and rear walls were arranged tiers of benches as in the ancient theatres. The stage was raised about four feet from the floor, and was separated from the pit by a balustrade. A big open room above the stage was used by the actors to dress in, and a square roof protected this and the stage from the rain. Another narrow, circular roof covered the tiers of seats against the walls. A writer of that period says, in describing these theatres, that "seen from a distance they looked like enormous towers, outtopping the trees and houses that surrounded them."

Troubles Of The Early European Theatres

During the seventeenth century the theatre experienced troublesome times in France through political intrigue. The celebrated Comedie Fran-caise and the equally famed Palais Royal were several times established and suppressed as national theatres during that period. In the. year 1660 there were but three great public theatres in all Paris: the Hotel de Bourgogne, the Theatre du Marias and the Palais Royal, although theatres were held in high popular favor. In England, too, the same experience befell the theatre because of civil wars. During this period actresses for the first time were accepted with favor upon the English stage. Painted scenery was introduced and oil lamps were substituted for candles. Up to that time scenery and "properties" had not been employed on the stage, such accessories being described in the lines of the play, and uttered by the stage declaimer.