Shakespeare didn't write his plays for university students but for the stage. As actor, playwright and theatre-owner he wanted to "sell" his plays to as many people as possible . In order to understand why Shakespeare wrote his plays the way he did, we have to know something about his audience, i.e. the people who paid to see his plays.
Who went to see William Shakespeare's plays?
Shakespeare wrote his palys for everybody, so there were many social classes, who went to see his plays. From the “groundlings”, who include all people, who weren’t very rich, to those who paid far more to sit in the "Gentlemen's rooms" or the "Lords' room". The seats in the Lords room were coasting twelve times as much as the groundlings paid. These seats were the best seats in the house.
How much did they pay?
For the lord room they paid twelve penny and for the standing places they paid one penny.
(based on a Tudor soldier's food allowance)
24 oz. wheat bread 1 penny 2/3 gallon beer 1 penny 2 lbs. beef or mutton (cod or
herring on Fridays) 2 pence 1/2 lb. butter 1 1/2 pence 1 lb. cheese 1 1/2 pence Total 7 pence
What social class did these people belong to? What jobs did they have?
The People in Shakespeare’s time had a strong sense of social classes.
You belong to a special class, because of occupation (the job), wealthy and ancestry (the origin). Only some families moved from one social class to another, but usually they aren’t able to move from one class to another. Normally you were born into a class, so you stayed in this class for your whole life. A Social class could include all sorts of things, from what a person could wear to where he could live to what jobs his children could get.
There were four classes in Shakespeare’s time. These four classes are called The Nobility, The Gentry, The Yeomanry and The Poor.
This class was at the bottom of the class system. The main part of people, who stayed in this class, was unemployed. This people, who are unemployed, were put to workhouses. There they found work.
Between the two extremes of rich and poor was the so-called 'middling sort'. The people, who were in this class had enough money to live comfortable, but there was a chance to fall back into the poverty threw illness or bad luck. These people had jobs like farmers, tradesmen and craft workers. Another very important point in this class was that the yeomen took religion very seriously. It was a part of their daily routine.
This class included just about 5% of the population. The Gentry class included knights, squires, gentlemen and gentlewomen. You had to be very wealthy to get into this class. All people in this class didn’t have to work with their hands for living. They were landowners or famous people, so they have enough money.
There were only about 55 noble families in Shakespeare’s times. At the head of a noble family was a duke, baron or an earl. These families were so rich that they had very large households. One household could include more than 200 people like family, servants, and guests. Many nobles had died because of civil wars, or because there were no sons or daughters to marry.
What did they expect to see?
They expected to see a good acting, with a simple speech and pompous costumes, because they want to escape from their day-to-day life.
Are there any important differences between their way of thinking and seeing the world and ours?
I think they were more focused on religion. Because of this, the church was a lot more powerful, than the church is today. The people tried to explain all things, which they weren’t able to explain, with the religion. (For example: the world is a discus) But with the growing technologic, the church lost her power until now.