The History and Tradition of British Theatre and Cinema - Paper Example

Published: 2024-01-26
The History and Tradition of British Theatre and Cinema - Paper Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  History Theatre
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1451 words
13 min read

Long before contemporary technologies' development, Elizabethan civilizations fashioned an intricate event and activity system to entertain themselves. As Thomas (2009) noted, on the one hand, this civilization was characteristically eloquent, expressive, less dynamic, pleasure-loving, and flamboyant; on the other hand, these people exhibited boldness and self-confidence, passion, courage, and love for change. Theatre was one of their main passions – it was the equivalent of television in contemporary society (Thomas, 2009). In this age and era, theatres served one primary purpose: entertainment. People, both rich and poor, gathered in playhouses to watch play performances, among them Shakespeare's famous plays. For years, theatre and performing arts remained (and still are) deep-rooted in Britain's everyday life. Throughout antiquity, performing in high-profile performances and musicals was (and remains) a realistic dream for most youth and young adults across Great Britain's shores.

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The history of British theatre dates as early as the 10th and 11th centuries from church services; this prominence grew in the mid-14th century when religious leaders encouraged the staging of Biblical stories (mystery cycles) and stories of saints' lives (miracle plays) (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2020). The play writers and performers used the ordinary people's language instead of Latin to teach mainly the illiterate public about the bible and Christianity (VAM, 2020). At the culmination of the medieval era, people had moved from staging plays on pageant wagons to constructing specific spaces in public dedicated to theatre.

After Britain's Reformation in the 16th century, secular drama emerged following the suppression of all religious drama in England (VAM, 2020). During this period (1576), Britain saw the creation of its first playhouse, when James Burbage built 'The Theatre' in Shoreditch, paving the way for playwrights such as William Shakespeare to showcase their work (Wickham, 2013). Within the next two decades, several open-air, public theatres emerged (VAM, 2020). With an annual, growing demand came novel firms that called on writers to produce several novel plays to satisfy this demand. According to VAM (2020), two of the most famous companies at the time were the Lord's Chamberlain's Men and Admiral's Men.

16th-Century England witnessed the birth of someone who would become the nation's most famous playwrights: William Shakespeare (VAM, 2020). Throughout Shakespeare's lifespan, he wrote about 38 plays – The Comedy of Errors and Venus and Adonis being some of his earliest plays – and several sonnets (VAM, 2020). Many people in Britain and the world deemed the breadth, beauty, and ingenuity of Shakespeare's language and his writing's universal nature as some of the essential elements that drove him to the British drama summit.

Shakespeare's written works, including Hamlet and Macbeth, are nowadays performed in cities worldwide, with many people mastering their plots. When Leonardo di Caprio starred in the film Romeo and Juliet (1996), he proved the popularity and reputation of Shakespeare's works. The prominence of Shakespeare's writings inspired many ancient and contemporary writers to prepare works that would later earn them much acclaim for their performances in theatres across the UK and other global cities.

In 1642, a civil war in England between King Charles I's supporters and Parliamentarians resulted in the closure of theatres for nearly two decades (VAM, 2020). The outcome was severe hardship for professional writers, managers, and theatre performers. However, following Charles II's restoration to the throne in 1660, playwright William Davenant and dramatist Thomas Killigrew received royal patents, granting them a virtual monopoly over drama presentation in London – monopolies that were revoked in the 19th century (VAM, 2020). The granting of royal patents marked the return theatre's return to society.

British cinema, like theatre, has also had a rich history over the past centuries. Dating back to the late 19th century – when Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres made the first British film, Incident at Clovelly Cottage (1895) – British cinema has undergone on and off buoyancy in maintaining its home and international market (House of Lords Communications Committee, 2010). At the time, filmmakers across the UK build small studios to produce short films that music-halls and traveling showmen used. As (HOLCC, 2010) noted, by the end of the 20th century's first decade, there were nearly 30 film studios across London – reflecting the rapid and substantial market share establishment, both locally and internationally.

The history of British film highlights the 30s as a prosperous decade for British cinema (HOLCC, 2010). As noted above, British films amassed a substantial market share despite significant competition from Hollywood films. Still, most fans and critics believe that UK's cinema experienced its "golden age" in the 40s period when filmmakers such as Carol Reed, David Lean, and Michael Power, among others, produced their most acclaimed pieces (HOLCC, 2010). Throughout the first half of the 20th century, British cinema would experience a buoyancy that helped it keep its home market against expensive Hollywood films. However, stiff competition from the latter translated to a significant decline in UK film's home market.

With a gradual decline in feature films' production, there was a need to seek government support, highlighting the industry's potential benefits. Despite this decline, the British public embraced cinema-going as a pastime, leading to a surge in cinema investments. The establishing of novel companies gained massive government support, thanks to the latter's perception of the former's potential as a revenue source. As such, the government stepped in to protect its film industry from domination by American films.

According to HOLCC (2010), the government enacted the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927, which recognized the interdependency of producing, distributing, and exhibiting films. The legislation also aimed at encouraging local production by placing quotas on the distribution and exhibition of locally-produced films (HOLCC, 2010). The Act succeeded in boosting film production and the creation of several production companies in the UK. Still, critics blamed it for creating low-quality films grounded on the aim of meeting quota requirements.

Today, British cinema boasts massive success related to film production. The success of the UK's film industry is apparent in its actors and actresses, including Michael Caine, Kate Winslet, Roger Moore, and Emma Thompson, Sean Connery, and Maggie Smith have emerged and amassed global recognition and critical success. Despite British and Hollywood films sharing several similarities and following similar genres, the two have exhibited some degree of difference over the years.

The popularity of theatre and cinema-going among Britons has highlighted the former's significance as part of the UK's tradition. Today, cities such as London boast of being home to several theatres and professional companies. Small country towns have also not remained behind. Theatres across Britain's shores play host to a wide variety of local and foreign orchestras and conductors. Examples of high-profile orchestras include the London Symphony, BBC Symphony, and New Philharmonic Orchestra. Britons have also proved to be a powerhouse in choral singing, reflected in the many choral societies spread across different cities.

For centuries, theatre and cinema have played an essential role in British society. It is no wonder why London's West End is home to one of England's most fantastic attractions. Today, dramas and films by British writers and directors are performed and aired in cities worldwide, winning them global recognition and acclaim for their works. The importance of film and theatre as part of British tradition is evident in the emphasis placed on GCSE and A-Level English Literature, where students have to watch dramatic performances as part of their course. Emphasizing that students must watch such performances underlines the importance of learning stage operations, especially for those aspiring to be future performers. Besides, instructors have often contended that watching such performances motivates budding performers to hold on to their dream and make it a reality.

Recently, the mounting population of prominent acting and film personalities across London has adequately manifested UK performances' glowing acceptance and repute. Several theatres across this city have also highlighted the historical importance of architecture and literature in contemporary British culture. Thus, proper qualifications and training in as many subjects as possible have become essential in boosting budding performers' and actors' expertise and experience.

Conclusively, Britain has had an established tradition in the performing arts. From antiquity to present times, the nation has prided itself on its theatre and filmmaking quality. From the West End in England's capital to regional theatres spread across Welsh and Scottish cities, the overabundance of filmmakers, excursions, and talent searches have helped showcase the UK's position as a global powerhouse and home to some of the best talents


House of Lords Communications Committee. (2010) The British film and television industries (2009-20, HL Paper 37-I).

Thomas, M. (2009). Theatre culture of early modern England.

Victoria and Albert Museum. (2020). The story of theatre.

Wickham, G. (Ed.). (2013). Part I-early English stages 1576-1600 (Vol. 2). Routledge.

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