Globe Theater is the place where most of William Shakespeare’s major works including his famous four tragedies were first staged. This fact alone makes it a fascinating subject for students of literature and history to explore. Although the original building was destroyed in the mid-seventeenth century, a new “Globe Theater” has been built near the site of the old theater in London. The building replicates many of the original features of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and still stages some of the bard’s plays to give the modern theater going audience the original ‘flavor’ of the bard’s masterpieces. This paper traces the history of the Globe Theater, describes the original building’s main features, and covers the recent re-building of the new Globe in the vicinity of the old theater.
Cuthberg Burbage, an associate of Shakespeare and brother of the most famous Shakespearean actor of the time, Richard Burbage had inherited a London theater called simply ‘The Theater.’ (Pressley, para No. 3) When the lease on the land on which it was built expired, Cuthberg and his associates including several actors, decided to take the matters in their own hands. They dismantled ‘The Theater’, transported its material across a frozen River Thames and proceeded to construct a new theater that was named “The Globe.” The new theater, with its trademark logo of Hercules carrying the world on his shoulders, was located in the Bankside district of London alongside three other theaters — the Rose, the Swan and the Hope. Shakespeare was a shareholder in “The Globe” and his name has become linked forever with the theater as it staged most of his plays over the next several years and became the finest theater in London. (Malvasi, para No. 1; Moore, para 1 & 2)
Although no drawings of the original Globe exist, a fairly accurate picture of the theater can be pieced together as a result of various descriptions and archeological findings. Like most theaters of the time, the Globe was an octagonal-shaped building with an open air stage located on the inside that could accommodate up to 3000 people.
The stage of the Globe was a five feet high level platform of about 43 X 28 feet size. The stage was fitted with mechanisms such as trap doors in its floor that were creatively utilized by Shakespeare in his plays. It was surrounded on three sides by the “pit” in which the general audience (known as “groundlings” or the “one penny” audience) stood to watch the performances. The fourth side of the stage had a room for the actors where costumes changes were made. Around the pit were three galleries (balconies) one above the other that had seating for “two-penny” theatergoers. The topmost gallery was roofed with thatch and had a small turret structure, from which a trumpeter announced the day’s performances. Since no artificial lighting was available, plays were usually scheduled for the afternoons. The acoustics were poor due to the open air stage the actors had to shout their lines and resort to exaggerated theatrical gestures to be heard and get noticed. (Malvasi; Pressley)
“Microcosm” of the Times
Despite the fact that the profession of acting and theatrical pursuit was looked down upon in the Elizabethan society of the 17th century, performances at “The Globe” were a resounding success where the social elite rubbed shoulders with the common public who all flocked to see the plays. It is said that on “many days the London Bridge would be crowded with people going to the Globe to see one of its productions…others would wait on the banks of the Thames for boatmen to ferry them across.” (Malvasi) The author of Riverside Shakespeare (1974), Harry Levin remarks in the introduction to his book that “the Globe was truly a microcosm or little world of man.” (quoted by Moore, para on “Audiences and Actors”)
The original structure of the Globe Theatre survived until 29 June, 1613, when its thatched roof was set ablaze by a cannon fired during a performance of the play “Henry VIII” destroying the theater completely. The Globe was soon reconstructed within a year with the straw thatched roof replaced by tiles. The Globe’s glory days lasted until 1642, when the Puritans, who were opposed to all forms of entertainment, came to power in England and closed down all theaters. Two years later, the Globe was completely torn down and tenement housing was constructed at the site. (“The Old Globe”)
The “New” Globe
American actor and director Sam Wanamaker was a native of the United States but had great love for the works of Shakespeare. He was instrumental in initiating a project for rebuilding the Globe in as faithful a depiction of the original theater as possible. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust in 1970 and managed to start construction work at the site of the old theater in 1987. The project, despite many hurdles, was finally completed in 1997. The “new” Globe is situated within 100 yards from the site of old Globe, and has the same roofless structure with whitewashed, half-timber walls and thatched roof crown as the original globe. (“The Rebirth..”)
Every summer, plays are still staged at the new Globe in much the same way as they were in Shakespeare’s lifetime — without sets, decor, microphones or spotlights. It is a fitting tribute to perhaps the greatest dramatist and a unique theater in which a master craftsman first enacted his art.
Malvasi, Meg Greene. “Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.” Suite101.com. April 20, 1999. October 10, 2003 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/history_for_children/18004
Moore, R. “Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.” Enotes.com. n.d. October 10, 2003 http://www.allshakespeare.com/globe.php
The Old Globe — A general introduction.” University of Reading, UK. Last modified on June 2003. October 10, 2003 http://www.rdg.ac.uk/globe/siteinfo/Globeintro.htm
Pressley, J.M. ” The Globe.” Shakespeare Resource Center, October 2, 2003. October 10, 2003. http://www.bardweb.net/globe.html
The Rebirth of Shakespeare’s Globe.” Smithsonian magazine. November 1997. October 10, 2003. http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues97/nov97/shakespeare_nov97.html
Built by his father, James Burbage in 1576
The Globe Theater
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