Sound and special effects

The acoustics of the Globe and other theatres were poor, so sound did not carry well. In addition the audience would be talking, moving around and may even be having fights. Actors had to boom their lines in a loud and carrying voice. They would accompany their lines with exaggerated gestures so people could understand what they were saying.

Music was used to complement the plays – a number of them include songs. There are famous songs in Much Ado About NothingSigh no more, ladies – and Twelfth Night has a song in every act performed by Feste, the fool. Musicians could sit on the balconies behind the stage to perform, or under the stage to create an eerie effect.

Elizabethan audiences loved special effects – especially gory, bloody ones! Packets of fake blood could be concealed on the actor and split at the appropriate moment. Shakespeare took advantage of such effects in many plays, including the particularly gory Titus Andronicus and King Lear which involves eyes being gouged out. Ropes were also used to allow actors to enter as if they were flying – and a trapdoor went through beneath the stage.

Did you know?

  • To make the bags of blood, the actors would fill animal bladders with animal blood. If the scene was particularly gory they might also use pigs’ intestines to throw across the stage.
  • At the end of the play in Shakespeare’s time, the company would put on a second shorter piece – a farce or a dance. This stopped the audience going home sad if it was a tragedy!
  • The actors would wear make-up, particularly to portray a woman. Elizabethan foundation was based on lead – a metal which ate away the skin. Make-up was not good for your health!