After the advent of the Renaissance in Italy there were various attempts to construct theaters on Roman models, the culmination of this movement being the Teatro Olimpico (1580–84) at Vicenza, designed by Andrea Palladio. However, the development of the theater form that was to dominate until the 20th cent. began with the Teatro Farnese (1618) at Parma, designed by Gian-Battista Aleotti. Of primary importance was Aleotti's use of the proscenium arch creating the picture-frame stage.
Italians also introduced painted perspective scenery, first outlined in the treatise Architettura (1537–45) of Sebastiano Serlio. While these developments were taking place in an academic and aristocratic milieu, the commedia dell'arte was carrying on a popular theater of improvisation, which did much toward developing professional acting as opposed to courtly amateurism.
In England and Spain, theories of theater construction were less tied to classical example than in Italy. The Spanish theater developed in the corral, or courtyard, of various large buildings, where plays were originally performed, while the innyard served as a similar model in England. These theaters offered greater flexibility of movement than did the Italian. The Elizabethan audience in England included all levels of society, and professional actors were treated with relative respect. By the closing of the theaters by the Puritans in 1642, English audiences had become overwhelmingly aristocratic, a tendency that continued in the Restoration period.
In 17th-century England the designs of Inigo Jones revealed Italian influence in their use of perspective scenery and the proscenium arch. However, English theater never indulged in the architectural extravaganzas that proliferated on the continent. In 17th-century Europe the trend in theater production was increasingly toward more elaborate machinery and scenery with less and less concern for the drama itself. This trend is illustrated by the triumph of opera in Italy and Spain and, later, by the popularity of the exuberant baroque architecture and scene design of the Bibiena family throughout 18th-century Europe.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.