The Globe that stands on Bankside today was the brainchild of Sam Wanamaker – an American film actor and director.
It is a perfect reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse that originally stood 330 yards away (and now lies under Anchor Terrace, on Southwark Bridge Road).
The original theatre was home to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – a theatre group from the outskirts of London – who used to perform in a place called ‘The Theatre’. Complaints from local residents led to that lease expiring without renewal, so the group stripped the building bear, and transported it brick-for-brick to bankside.
Understandably, the Theatre’s owner wasn’t too happy when he saw his playhouse disappear in front of his very eyes, and he sued the troupe in court. Amazingly, the judge sided with the actors, and allowed the ‘New Globe’ to open up in 1598.
Unfortunately, the theatre burnt down to the ground in 1613, when a dozy stagehand shot a cannon at the roof during Henry VIII. It was reopened in 1614 with a tiled roof, but was demolished in 1642 by the Puritans.
Three hundred years later Wanamaker came along and built it all again. He had been harbouring dreams since 1969 to open up another, but the first brick wasn’t laid until 1987. The doors finally opened ten years later – four years after his death.
It has been constructed as closely as possible to match the original design – fashioned from unseasoned oak and 6,000 pegs, topped with a 17th-century thatched roof. The roof is a particular treasure – being the first thatched roof allowed in the capital since the Great Fire of London.
William Shakespeare is England’s most famous playwright. His career was already well underway when he started staging at the Globe, and many of his early works were already out.
He is believed to have worked there between 1599 and 1611 – and premiered works like Othello, Macbeth and Henry V. This last play even contains a veiled reference to
this wooden O.
Watching a play at the Globe Theatre is akin to being dragged back in time. It is partly open to the weather – as was the original – and has a large standing area at the base of the stage (for the groundlings). The three rows of seats up the sides are called the Twopenny Rooms (rows one and two) and Penny Gallery (top row).
The original theatre was surprisingly advanced, with trap doors and balconies. The stage was only about forty feet by twenty-five, but contained two hand-wound lifts so that actors could rise up from the ‘cellarage’. There were also two huge posts at either side, holding up a roof painted with sky scenes and stars. This roof – called the heavens – also contained a trap-door inside, so actors could descend on ropes and fly through the sky!
To keep everything as authentic as possible, plays are mainly staged in the afternoon. There are no artificial lights or sound systems either – and with a fine view of the sky above the staging area, London’s wet and windy weather frequently intervenes. But if it catches you out – don’t worry. There is a fine exhibit that details the history of Elizabethan theatre underneath the building.
All The World’s A Stage is an exhibition that leads you through the role of actors and musicians in Elizabethan England. You can see the way they lived, worked and played in Shakespeare’s day, with costume shows and samples. You can even see how they faked the blood, and created their stunning sound effects!
Guided tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre – from 2nd Jan 2013
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