Staging the Henrician Court : Dividing the audience into male and female

This page last changed on Aug 17, 2009 by cshuttleworth.

Dividing up the audience into men and women during the performance was such an unusual experience for a 21st century audience - there are few situations today (in western society at least) where we split up like this, in such a formal way -  its affect was to make you very aware of your gendered identity through the performance from looking at -and being looked back at by-  the opposite sex the whole way through the performance..

I was suprised then by the actors transgressing this set-up and 'playing' with the audience so freely (i was the lucky audience member to be nearly sat on by the wind miller!) Is this a common characteristic of tudor court drama?

There is a tradition of blurring the boundary between audience and actor in the early Tudor drama, usually facilitated by the Vice character standing on the threshold between the two who involves the audience members in dramatic activity. There is also potentially space written into 'The Play of the Weather' for spectators to enter the play improvisationally, when Merry Report asks the audience if there are any more suitors among them who would like to step forward. How far this is simply a convention though is unclear. Examples where the audience are actually written into the script are not uncommon however and often foreground the moral dimensions of the play. In 'Mankind' for instance, the collection of money from spectators prior to the appearance of Titivullus places them in a moral quandary - it is courteous for them to pay the actors, but makes them complicit in the entrance of a devil. The blurring of audience/performer boundaries, then, seems to be a particuarly effective moral device inherited from the morality play.

Eleanor Rycroft at Oct 05, 2009 11:31

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