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Shakespeare on Stage

2. Parts of the Theatre

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About this Lecture


In this module, we explore the parts of the Elizabethan theatre and how they were used to add to the metatheatrical effects within the drama. In particular, we focus on the parts of the theatre known as "the Heavens" (the roof above the thrust stage, which was decorated with stars and signs of the zodiac) and "Hell" (the area below the stage, accessed via a trap-door). The presence of "Heaven" and "Hell" within the theatre gave Shakespeare rich opportunities for metatheatricality, such as when Hamlet speaks to Guildenstern about "this majestical roof fretted with golden fire", which may refer both to the imagined sky above him, but also the actual roof of the Globe theatre.


In this course, Professor Tiffany Stern (University of Oxford) explores how Shakespeare was originally rehearsed, acted and watched, and how this might change our understand of some of his plays. In the first module, we think about actors' roles and rehearsals, looking in particular at the tendency for actors to be given only their part to learn, rather than a copy of the entire play. In the second module, we discuss the parts of the theatre, including the "heaven" and "hell" for the areas above and below the stage, respectively. In the third module, we think about the props that Shakespeare's actors would have used, before turning in the fourth module to the vvarious indoor and outdoor theatres that Shakespeare and other actors of his time would have used. In the fifth module, we take a closer look at some of Shakespeare's actors, including Richard Burbage and William Kempe, before turning in the sixth module to the idea that Shakespeare's depiction of time in this plays may have been impacted by the timepieces that were available at the time.


Tiffany works on theatre history from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, book history and editing; she specialises in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, particularly Jonson, Brome, Middleton and Nashe, and also write on seventeenth and eighteenth century playwrights and editors, including Wycherley, Farquhar, Sheridan, Theobald and Johnson. Looking at the theatrical contexts that bring plays about – by Shakespeare and others – is a keen interest of hers. Having researched the theatrical documents put together by authors and others in the process of writing and learning a play, she is repeatedly drawn back to actors’ parts, the documents consisting of cues and speeches from which actors learned their roles. She also writes on prologues, epilogues, songs, letters, arguments, plots and other stage documents; acting methods; theatrical props; and playhouse architecture.

She is currently writing a section on Shakespeare and sixteenth to eighteenth century performance for the revised Riverside Shakespeare, and am completing articles on Shakespeare and Time, Newsletters and Buckingham, and the works of Arthur Murphy. As a general editor she is, with Brian Gibbons and William C. Carroll, responsible for the New Mermaids play series; She is also an Arden Advisory Editor – she will be a general editor of Arden Shakespeare series 4 – and is on the editorial board of the RSC Shakespeare, the Greenwood Shakespeare Encylopedia, the Queen’s Men internet editions, and the journals Shakespeare Bulletin, SEDERI, The Hare and Shakespeare Quarterly.

Future research includes a book on early modern theatre and popular entertainment, Playing Fair: Fairs and Drama in 16th-18th Century London, for Cambridge University Press, exploring the cultural exchanges between playhouses and fairgrounds, and a book on Shakespeare Beyond Performance, putting 'literary' publication in the context of other immediate responses to Shakespearen performance -- ballads, drolls, puppet shows, notes and commonplaces, 'noted' texts.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Stern, T. (2018, August 15). Shakespeare on Stage - Parts of the Theatre [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Stern, T. "Shakespeare on Stage – Parts of the Theatre." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,