In Elizabethan England, they did not have the time to rehearse plays; at least, not in the way that modern actors think of rehearsing. To begin with, there was no electric lighting: nighttime performances and any kind of effective nighttime rehearsal was out of the question.
Secondly, mornings were spent in practice: practicing the sword fights, dances, songs, processions, and the handling of laborious props or set pieces that would be utilized during that day’s performance. This left only the afternoons for performing plays that, at their fastest and shortest, ran at least two hours long.
Thirdly, records show that as many as ten plays could be debuted in a two-week period. Even in the slower-and-simpler days of long ago, no one could be expected to memorize so many lines so quickly; lines that were considered antiquated, elevated, and difficult even in Shakespeare’s time. Besides, Shakespeare himself was a partial owner of the company: it was in his best financial interest not to have rehearsals: why pay the actors when they aren’t bringing in any money? So the theory goes: actors were given their Sides shortly before the play debuted. They perhaps had a little time to look them over, but ultimately they had little more than the grammatical clues inherent in Shakespeare’s language, along with the quick wits and technique accumulated from years of apprenticeship and professional experience, to get them through a show.
Moreover, Shakespeare was not a legendary part of educational canon back then: these actors did not have years of history and performances to study. Although the vast majority of Shakespeare’s plays were based on familiar legends, folk tales, and common plot devices, they were still brand new to the actors. And with so little time, it’s unlikely these actors knew anything beyond the basic plotline: they had no idea of the intricacies of the poetry, the finer plot points, who was playing what part, or sometimes even what happened to their own character in the play.
This is the environment that Unrehearsed Shakespeare seeks to recreate.