This is a scene from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure performed at the Royalty Theatre in 1893 and directed by William Poel. William Poel founded the Elizabethan Stage Society in 1894 with the aim of staging plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries as they would have been done when they were written. Poel was reacting against the trend of the time for ‘realistic’ productions which were more about scenery and spectacle than the text or the acting. Poel’s productions used minimal scenery (usually just curtains) and attempted to create a closer and more active involvement between actor and audience.
For this production of Measure for Measure, Poel commissioned a reconstruction of an Elizabethan stage which fitted into the Royalty and hid the modern theatre. The costumed spectators seated on the stage were members of the Elizabethan Society and the Sunday Shakespeare Society. Although Poel’s productions did not enjoy great critical success, they were an important influence on practitioners of the future such as Harley Granville Barker.