Shakespeare’s Globe – Dedicated to Shakespeare and Shakepeare’s London:
Shakespeare’s Globe is in fact long gone, the original Shakespeare’s Globe that is. During a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, wadding from a stage cannon set fire to the thatched roof and the entire theatre burned to the ground. But this wasn’t the cause of the demise of the first Globe theatre. It was closed by Puritans in 1642 and taken down 2 years later to make room for tenements.
Fortunately for the many fans of the bard, there’s a faithful reproduction housed only a few hundred metres from the original site. It is thanks to the consuming passion of American actor Sam Wanamaker, that the Globe theatre exists today, offering performances of Shakespeare plays during the summer along with tours of the facility. Unfortunately, Wanamaker died in December 1993 shortly after construction began.
Though no drawings of the interior of the original are known to exist, every care has been taken to faithfully recreate the Globe theatre. Scholarly studies from the intervening 400 years have allowed designers to make the reconstruction close to the original. A sketch made in 1596 of the presumed-similar Swan Theatre is just one example.
Shakespeare’s Globe Recreated
The visitor will find both the exterior and the interior very much what he or she would expect from the time Elizabethan actors trod the boards. Although, some modern concessions to safety, such as the installation of overhead sprinklers, have been made. The round, white background with dark trim, the thatched roof (the first allowed in London since the Great Fire of 1666) and hundreds of details make seeing the site a journey back in time.
Though demolished in 1644, the exact location was rediscovered in 1989 when remnants of the original foundations were discovered beneath Anchor Terrace on Southwark Bridge Road. Legal and other restrictions prevented rebuilding on the original site. But the new site is close enough by and the recreation accurate enough to allow the original to be easily imagined.
That imagination can be aided by taking one of the offered tours of the building. Knowledgeable guides will take visitors around the nearly circular building showing the high balconies and the low wooden benches near the front, fill you in on all the Shakespeare facts, as well as take you on a fascinating journey through the times of Elizabethan London.
At favorable times, when no rehearsals are being held, tours also take in parts of the 12m (40ft) wide by 9m (30ft) deep stage. Guides explain how special effects of the time were created, including use of the trap door and the large, open area under the stage. With luck, you’ll catch a sword-fighting exhibition.
It continues into exhibition rooms showing artifacts and facsimiles of the period. A table with writing implements of the type Shakespeare used is evident along with several other ‘scene setting’ chairs and decorative items.
There’s also a gift store adjoining the modern lobby where recordings, photos and cards, and (of course) Shakespeare plays can be purchased.
Visitors can purchase tickets to the professionally staged plays and enjoy being a groundling or an aristocrat. ‘Groundlings’ usually sat or stood near the front. By contrast to today, the area provided cheaper admission. Well-to-do merchants and royalty, or simply the well connected, sat further back and higher.
On these wooden benches, under the open sky visitors can turn around before the play begins (there is no curtain to raise) and see the 1,500 souls assembled to watch the performance. (The original Globe theatre held 3,000.)
Then, at the first trumpet, turn your attention to the stage and be held rapt by a dramatic and faithful rendering of one of literature’s greatest plays.
The Globe is easy to reach via the London Tube, i.e. the underground or subway. Exit at St Paul’s Cathedral station and Shakespeare’s theatre is opposite.
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT