This section seeks to illustrate how the exact naming of the location of Shakespeare's plots may have been culturally significant to an Elizabethan audience, and why it may still be illuminating to modern spectators. Such historical details often jar with the radical displacements pursued by some modern directors and designers since the time of Orson Welles’s Fascist rendering of Julius Caesar. When the U.C. Berkeley Shakespeare Program staged his comedies in appropriately Renaissance style in costume and setting (e.g. before baroque facades) we were congratulated on our daring originality.
However, the following selection of images suggests what impressions and interpretations might have been customary in Shakespeare's world in imagining the physical environments and distinctive historical societies that he explicitly chose to stage. Though Elizabethan theatre did not pursue historical realism very thoroughly in costuming, images or ideas, similar impressions to those suggested by these images may have plausibly inspired some elements of the content, characterization, and even physical appearance of their productions. This they certainly did to a remarkable degree with the stagings of some later times, particularly in the late nineteenth century, with the obsession for historical detail of such producers as Charles Kemble, Henry Irving, and Beerbohm Tree. In the twentieth century such concern became far less uniform but some suggestion of the plays’ historical settings remained an option, despite the powerful movement to transpose them to more accessible periods, from late Victorian to wholly modern-day. A further historical variant fostered by William Poel has been to recreate the conjectured aspects of Elizabethan productions themselves, as research has increasingly made them available. This mode culminated in the recreation of approximations to the original Globe Theatre and its Elizabethan analogues, of which Sam Wanamaker’s creation in Southwark is only the most prominent example of many others worldwide.
Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond.