The old Globe Theatre

How it all started – The foundations of the old Globe Theatre:

The history of the old Globe Theatre is brief and chaotic, as evidenced by the old Globe Timeline. The prosperity and popularity of theatre during Shakespeare’s lifetime is a remarkable success story for theatrical entrepreneurs of the time. The Elizabethan era saw the rise in popularity of theatres, and during this time, the staging of plays moved from renovated inn-yards to the construction of massive outdoor amphitheaters, such as the Globe, which were used for the summer seasons, and the construction or renovation of indoor theatres, known as Playhouses, which were used in the winter seasons and by royalty. As the chronology illustrates, it all began in 1576.

Timeline of restoration: The Globe Theater - Sheet1
The old Globe Theatre_©www.theoldglobe.org

Theatres’ Rise and Fall – A Timeline:

Theatres first appeared in 1576, but by 1648, all theatres and playhouses had been ordered to be demolished, all actors had been arrested and beaten, and anybody discovered watching a play had been fined five shillings. What happened to cause such a turn of events for theatres? What occurred? All the answers may be found in the chronology and history.

The History and Timeline of the Old Globe Theatre:

Timeline of restoration: The Globe Theater - Sheet2
Shakespeare _©www.wikipedia.com

1564 :  On April 23, William Shakespeare was born.

1572 : Leicester’s men take on Stratford.

1576 : James Burbage (father of actor Richard Burbage) secures a lease and permission to construct ‘Theatre’ in Shoreditch, London. From 1594 to 1596, it was used by Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

1577 : The Curtain, another open-air amphitheater, opens in Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London .

1587 : The Rose, an open-air amphitheater in Bankside, Surrey, opened on September 3, 1592. The death of Robert Greene, the author of Groatsworth of Wit, in which he criticizes Shakespeare as an “upstart crow.”

1593 : Due to the Bubonic Plague, theatres cease. (The Black Death)

1594 : The Lord Chamberlain’s Company (officially known as the ‘Lord Stranges Men’) was founded.

1595 : On March 15, the first record mentioning Shakespeare and theatre was published.

1596 : In July, the Lord Chamberlain passes away, and the performing ensemble loses an important supporter. From 1596 to 1597, London’s rulers prohibited the public performance of plays within the city borders. As a result, the company was unable to perform at their usual winter setting, The Cross Keys Inn-yard. The Swan serves as their temporary winter home . James Burbage buys Blackfriars and transforms them into a theatre in 1596. It lies empty since it was unable to obtain authorization to open as a theatre.

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Map of London’s theatres c. 1600 _©www.britannica.com

1597 : Dispute about the lease of ‘Theatre’. Giles Allen, the Puritan owner, despised Theatre, and the performing ensemble. Burbage begins lease talks for the ‘Theatre.’ After failing talks for a new lease for the ‘Theatre,’ Shakespeare’s troupe relocated to the Curtain Theatre in 1597.

1598 : Christmas – Timber from the ‘Theatre’ is taken to be used in the construction of the Globe, a new theatre. Shakespeare is registered as “a principal comedian”.

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The Old Globe Theatre _©www.britannica.com

      1599: The Globe Theatre opens in Bankside.

      1600: Richard Burbage is compelled to lease out Blackfriars.

      1601: Shakespeare’s playing team, the Chamberlain’s Men, was commissioned to produce Richard II at the Globe.

      1603: Shakespeare is referenced as “a principal tragedian” in Jonson’s Sejanus.

      1603: The Bubonic Plague (The Black Death) strikes London once more, killing 33,000 people.

      1603: The King’s Men performing group is formed on May 19.

      1608: Shakespeare is referred to be one of “the men’s actors” (The King’s Men).

    1608: Richard Burbage reclaims the lease for the Blackfriars Theatre in August. Shakespeare and the King’s Men became part owners. The performances during the winter were held in the theatre.

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The Old Globe Theatre fire _©www.shakespeare.org.uk

      1613: The Globe Theatre burns down on June 29.

    1614: The Globe Theatre is rebuilt on its original foundations, although this time the roof is tiled rather than thatched.

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The Old Globe Theatre fire aftermath_©www.theoldglobe.org

      1616: William Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on April 25.

      1642: The English Civil War begins, with the Parliamentarians (Puritans) vs. the Royalists.

      1642: On September 2, Parliament passes an edict outlawing all theatrical performances.

  1644: On 15th April – Landowner Sir Matthew Brend demolishes the Globe and replaces it with tenement homes.

      1647: Puritans establish even tougher laws banning the staging of plays.

    1648: The Puritans ordered the demolition of all playhouses and theatres, the arrest and flogging of all actors, and the fine of five shillings for everyone caught watching a play.

      1649: The Civil War culminates in the heinous death of King Charles I by Parliamentarians (Puritans)

      1653: Oliver Cromwell was selected as the Lord Protector of England.

      1658: Cromwell dies, and the Puritans’ dominance begins to wane.

      1660: King Charles II of England is returned to the throne.

      1660: Following the Restoration and the fall of the Puritans’ control, theatres reopen. However, the Globe Theatre is never rebuilt.

The New Globe Theatre

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Shakespeare’s Globe, London, England_©CC BY-SA 4.0

Shakespeare’s Globe is a recreation of the Elizabethan theatre for which William Shakespeare penned his plays, located in the London Borough of Southwark on the south bank of the River Thames. The present Globe Theatre is an academic estimate based on known evidence of the structures between 1599 and 1614. It is said to be authentic, albeit contemporary safety standards limit its capacity to 1,400 people, as opposed to the original theatre’s 3,000.

Shakespeare’s Globe was established by actor and director Sam Wanamaker, was erected around 230 meters (750 feet) from the ancient theatre, and opened to the public in 1997 with a play of Henry V. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor theatre that debuted in January 2014, is situated on the property. This is a smaller, candle-lit room inspired by Jacobean London’s indoor playhouses. Just across the corner from the main site is the Sackler Studios, an instructional and rehearsal studio complex. Michelle Terry is the current creative director. She is the organization’s second actor-manager, following founding creative director Mark Rylance.

Planning and construction:

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The Globe set up for a performance of Romeo and Juliet (2019)_©CC0

Many people believed that a faithful Globe reconstruction was impossible to achieve due to complications in 16th-century design and modern fire safety requirements; however, Wanamaker persisted in his vision for over 20 years, and a new Globe theatre was eventually built according to a design based on historical adviser John Orrell’s research.

It was Wanamaker’s goal that the new building mimics the Globe as it existed for most of Shakespeare’s tenure there, namely the 1599 structure rather than its 1614 successor. As a starting point for the current structure’s design, a study of what was known about the construction of The Theatre, the building from which the 1599 Globe acquired much of its timber, was conducted. Examining other surviving London structures from the late 16th century; comparisons with other theatres of the era, especially the Fortune Playhouse, for which the building contract remains, and contemporaneous drawings and descriptions of the original Globe were added to this. Some aspects of the 1614 reconstruction, such as the exterior stairs, were included in the present design for practical reasons. The design team included Pentagram architect Theo Crosby, structural and services engineer Buro Happold, and quantity surveyors Boyden & Co. McCurdy & Co. handled the construction, building research, and historic design aspects. 

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Location of Shakespeare’s Globe, London, England_©www.wikipedia.com

The theatre is located on Bankside, approximately 230 meters from the original location—measured from center to center. Listed Georgian townhouses currently occupy a portion of the original site and could not be demolished. The current theatre, like the original Globe, features a thrust stage that extends into a wide circular yard encircled by three tiers of raked seats. The only covered elements of the amphitheater are the stage and the seating areas. Summer plays are presented between May and the first week of October; the theatre is utilized for instructional purposes throughout the winter. Tours are provided all year. Some Globe on Screen productions is filmed and distributed in theatres. 

The reconstruction was meticulously investigated to ensure that the new structure was as close to the old as feasible. As final designs for the location and construction were being finalized, the remnants of the original Rose Theater, a local neighbor to the Globe, were discovered. 

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Elevation of Shakespeare’s Globe, London, England_©CC BY 2.0

The building is entirely made of English wood, with mortise and tenon joints, and is thus an “authentic” 16th-century timber-framed structure because no structural steel was employed. The seats are plain benches, and the Globe features London’s first and only thatched roof since the Great Fire of 1666. The contemporary thatch is well protected by fire retardants, and sprinklers on the roof provide further fire protection. The pit features a concrete surface, as opposed to the old theatre’s dirt ground covered in rush. The theatre is connected to a contemporary lobby, café, gift shop, and tourist center, as well as vast backstage support rooms for performers and musicians. The seating capacity is 873, with an additional 700 “Groundlings” standing in the yard, resulting in an audience roughly half the size of a usual Shakespearean audience.

For the first 18 seasons, performances were designed to replicate Shakespeare’s Globe’s original surroundings; there were no spotlights, and plays were produced during the day and at night (with the use of indoor floodlights); there were no microphones, speakers, or amplification. All music was performed live, most frequently on period instruments, and the actors and audience could readily see and interact with one another, heightening the sense of a shared experience and a communal event.

Typically, performances have been prepared in an experimental attitude to investigate the original playing circumstances of the 1599 Globe. During this time, modern and traditional theatre technologies such as lighting and microphones were not employed. Emma Rice, the new creative director, began experimenting with the theatrical space in the 2016 season by erecting temporary lighting and sound equipment. Michelle Terry, the new creative director, has revived the experiments with unique playing settings.

Reconstruction of the original stage:

Stage and galleries_©CC BY-SA 2.5

The two massive ‘Herculean’ pillars are prominent in the image. The original ‘Herculean’ pillars were composed of massive, single tree trunks that were pierced in the middle to prevent wood warping. They were made to seem like marble, replicating the Roman and Greek classic styles, just like the new Globe, as shown in the photo. The pillars support a roof known as the “Heavens.” The sun, moon, and zodiac are shown in the Heavens. The stage wall known as the ‘Frons Scenae’ is located behind the pillars. An entryway to the left and right, as well as a curtained center doorway through which the performers enter. A very ornamental screen is located over the entry area. The sculptures or reliefs visible on the right and left sides of the stage image depict the Themes of Comedy and Tragedy.

References:

  1. Behind the News, 2018. What is the Globe Theatre? – Behind the News . Available at: [Accessed 27 August 2022].
  2. Gurr, A., n.d. Globe Theatre | Definition, History, & Facts . [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at:  
  3. Saunders, J. and Beckerman, B., 1963. Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599-1609. Shakespeare Quarterly , 14(2), p.167.
  4. WANAMAKER, S., 1989. Shakespeare’s Globe Reborn. RSA Journal , Vol. 138(5401).
Author

Arushi is an architect and interior designer who loves to travel and explore new places. She believes each place has its own story to tell. Her passion for history, culture and climate and how they all are related to architecture intrigues and motivates her to fulfil her goal to travel across the world.

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