Globe Theatre, famous London theatre in which after 1599 the plays of William Shakespeare were performed.
Early in 1599 Shakespeare, who had been acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men since 1594, paid into the coffers of the company a sum of money amounting to 12.5 percent of the cost of building the Globe. He did so as a chief shareholder in the company, and by doing so he helped to establish a uniquely successful form of commercial operation for the actors of the time. This investment gave Shakespeare and the other leading actors both a share in the company’s profits and a share in their playhouse.
At this time, officially approved playhouses and officially approved acting companies had been in existence in London for only five years. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men was one of only two companies licensed to perform within the London city limits. (For more on this subject, see Sidebar: Shakespeare and the Liberties.) The other company used the Rose playhouse, owned by an impresario and his ex-actor son-in-law.
The Second Best Playhouse
Shakespeare’s company built the Globe only because it could not use the special roofed facility, Blackfriars Theatre, that James Burbage (the father of their leading actor, Richard Burbage) had built in 1596 for it inside the city. The elder Burbage had a long history as a theatrical entrepreneur. In 1576 he had built the first successful amphitheatre, known as The Theatre, in a London suburb. Twenty years later, when the lease on The Theatre’s land was about to expire, he built the theatre in Blackfriars as its replacement. But the wealthy residents of Blackfriars persuaded the government to block its use for plays, so Burbage’s capital was locked up. He died early in 1597, his plans for the future of theatre in London frustrated.
Thus, the members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were forced to rent a playhouse. At the end of 1598, they decided to build one for themselves. Because the inheritance of Burbage’s sons, Cuthbert and Richard, was tied up in the Blackfriars, they formed a consortium with Shakespeare and four other actors, who became co-owners of the new Globe. The same shortage of cash made the consortium reluctant traditionalists; they gave up the idea of an indoor theatre in the city. The old playhouse was one of their few remaining resources, but they could not use it in situ because the lease had expired, so they dismantled it, took the timbers (illegally) to make the skeleton of their new amphitheatre, and kept the basic auditorium shape of The Theatre for the new building.
The Success Of The Globe
For all its hurried construction in 1599, the Globe proved a triumph. Its first decade of use made it a favourite not just with subsequent generations of theatregoers but with the company itself. In later years the troupe paid a lot to keep it going. At least two circumstances provide evidence for this statement. In 1608, when the company could finally fulfill James Burbage’s original plan for the Blackfriars, the members chose, extravagantly, to operate the two theatres together, using the open-air Globe in the summer and the roofed Blackfriars in the winter. Had they chosen to, they easily could have rented one of the buildings to another company, since there was a shortage of playhouses in London in this period. But they kept both for themselves. They were given a second chance to transfer full-time to the Blackfriars in 1613, when the Globe burned to the ground, its thatch accidentally set alight by a cannon during a performance of Henry VIII. By then the Blackfriars was already beginning to bring better profits than the Globe, since the smaller house size was more than compensated by its higher prices. Instead, bearing the cost out of sentiment and traditional loyalty, the company members dug deep into their own pockets and rebuilt the Globe more splendidly than before.
Technically, the 1599 Globe and its 1614 replacement span an era in the history of theatre design. The first Globe, based on the skeleton of the original Theatre of 1576, was unique not just as the most famous example of that peculiar and short-lived form of theatre design but because it was actually the first to be built specifically for an existing acting company and financed by the company itself. Shakespeare designed As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale, not to mention Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens, for performance there.
The Design Of The Globe
The design of the original Theatre responded to a mix of traditions. Its name, which up to then had been used for atlases (such as Mercator’s) rather than for playhouses, drew attention to the Roman theatre tradition. Its circular shape, though, reflected not the D-shape of a Roman amphitheatre but the gatherings of crowds in a circle around the actors in town marketplaces, where all the players of 1576 got their training. The concept of building a scaffold with three levels of galleries surrounding a circular yard mimicked the arrangement for audiences of existing bearbaiting and bullbaiting houses. The stage, a platform mounted in the yard, was the kind of thing that traveling companies set up in inn yards.
The old Theatre was a 20-sided structure, as near to a circle as Elizabethan carpentry could make it. It stood more than 30 feet (9 metres) high, with three levels of seating in its galleries. Audience access was either through two narrow passageways under the galleries into the standing room of the yard around the stage or up two external stair towers into the rear of the galleries. Five of the 20 bays of the galleries were cut off by the frons scenae, or tiring-house wall, behind which the actors kept their store of props, costumes, and playbooks and prepared themselves for their performances. The stage was a 5-foot- (1.5-metre-) high platform protruding from the tiring-house into the middle of the yard. Two posts upheld a cover over the stage that protected the players and their expensive costumes from rain. The audience standing in the yard had no cover, though when it rained they could pay more and take shelter in the lowest gallery.
The stage was large, 43 or 44 feet (about 13 metres) across and 27 or more feet (some 8 metres) deep. The two stage posts were substantial, since they had to uphold the large cover, or heavens, which had a trapdoor in it with a windlass for winding boys playing gods down onto the stage. Below the heavens trapdoor was one in the stage, which served as the entry point for King Hamlet’s ghost and the grave for Ophelia. The tiring-house wall had two doors on its flanks for entrances and exits and a central opening, normally covered by a set of hangings (Polonius’s arras) that concealed the caskets in The Merchant of Venice and Hermione’s statue in The Winter’s Tale. Above the three openings, a balcony ran the width of the stage wall, the central room of which was used for scenes that required an upper window or balcony or the walls of a town.
Rebuilding The Globe
The Globe was pulled down in 1644, two years after the Puritans closed all theatres, to make way for tenement dwellings. In 1970 the American actor Sam Wanamaker, who was driven by the notion of reconstructing a replica of the Globe, established the Shakespeare Globe Playhouse Trust. Seventeen years later a groundbreaking ceremony was held on a Bankside site near that of the original Globe, and in 1989 the foundations of the original building were discovered buried beneath a historic 19th-century building. Although only a small percentage of the original theatre could be examined, the discovery of these foundations enabled scholars to make certain design adjustments. They changed the planned 24 sides to 20, for instance, and, using the angles revealed by the archaeologists, they made the whole polygon 99 feet (30 metres) in outside diameter. By referring to a number of extant Elizabethan buildings for clues to the structure, style, interior, and roofing, scholars and architects completed the design of the Globe Theatre reconstruction. Using traditional methods and materials, with only a few concessions to modern fire regulations and the like, builders completed work on the new theatre in the mid-1990s. It is now part of a larger complex of buildings known as the International Shakespeare Globe Centre.
The basic justification for attempting to reconstruct the Globe in a faithful version of the original is that it can be used to learn more about Shakespeare’s plays. The Globe was Shakespeare’s machine, financed and built by the company that intended to use it. How it worked and what it produced have a great deal to offer to students of Shakespeare’s plays—those written pre-texts, as they have been called with some justice, which record all he thought his fellows needed to know when they staged his plays. Everything that has been wrung from these pre-texts in the last four centuries is enhanced by a better knowledge of Shakespeare’s original concept.
Photos taken from Instagram Shakespeare’s Globe (@the_globe)
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica – https://www.britannica.com/topic/Globe-Theatre