Since the end of the 16th century, thousands or perhaps millions of performances of Shakespeare’s plays have occurred. Even while Shakespeare was alive, his great plays were performed in the Blackfriars and Globe Theatres by groups like the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and King’s Men. Even after his death, Shakespeare’s plays continued to be staged until the Interregnum. During this stage in history, stage performances were banned by Puritan rulers. After the Restoration, performances of his plays began again in playhouses with scenery and other theatrical effects such as fireworks, music, thunder, lightening, wave machines, and dancing. The licensing of his plays were divided between two companies: the Duke’s Men of William Davenant and the King’s Company of Thomas Killigrew. This system of licensing plays dominated for two centuries until 1843.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays debuted on the stage of The Globe theatre in London. The building was described as a squatty, clumsy dingy building that resembled a tower more than a theatre. It appeared round, but was hexagonal in shape. The theatre was an open-roofed and open-staged theatre with a flag on top that announced when there was a performance. Even though it appeared simple, the theatre was novel in its design for having a trap door and a stage that extended into the audience. The stage was kept simple with its scenery. In fact, only a small amount of boulders, trees, tables, or chairs were provided. Instead of seeing this as a limitation, it was thought that it would increase the type of scenes that could be presented and gave unlimited opportunities for the spectators to imagine locations.
Throughout the years, the performances of Shakespeare’s plays have varied. In the 18th century, three main changes were made in his performances. One was the development of the star system which transformed production and acting. At the end of the century, the Romantic revolution reached acting as it did other forms of art. With this revolution, many of Shakespeare’s original texts were returned to the original state by editing out revisions that occurred during the Restoration.
Shakespeare’s plays dominated London stages in the 18th century. His influence spread throughout Europe even during his lifetime with versions of Hamlet being performed in Germany and elsewhere. However, it wasn’t until the next century that Shakespeare’s plays dominated German stages.
In the 19th century, theatrical scenery and theatres became even more elaborate. Performances were slowed by pauses to frequently change the scenery, which in turn cut out material of his plays to keep the performances to a reasonable length. Instead of the use of a platform like in the 17th century, actors stayed behind the fourth wall behind the orchestra.
In the 20th century, Shakespeare’s performances began to feature more abstract staging. One popular form of this was Gordon Craig’s design for Hamlet which featured monochrome canvases stretched on wooden frames. These flats were aligned in different configurations to vary and demonstrate lithic structures out of supplies and methods that were common to any theatre. Also introduced in modern Shakespeare performances was the idea of having modern dress included in performances.
In the 21st century, many theatres began staging Shakespeare festivals. These are organizations that stage the works of William Shakespeare on an ongoing basis. Many of the popular festivals are in the UK, with one of the most popular being the Royal Shakespeare Company. The second is the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012 which was part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It featured almost 70 productions involving performers from around the world. In the United States, many states have organized Shakespeare festivals with annual festivals holding a variety of performances. The term “Shakespeare festival” was most likely originated from the professional company acting in Stratford-upon-Avon in the late 19th century.