The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614 and closed in 1642.
A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named "Shakespeare's Globe", opened in 1997. It is approximately 230 metres (750 ft) from the site of the original theatre.
Site of the Globe Theatre, from Park Street; the dark line in the centre marks the foundation line. The white wall beyond is the rear of Anchor Terrace.
Examination of old property records has identified the plot of land occupied by the Globe as extending from the west side of modern-day Southwark Bridge Road eastwards as far as Porter Street and from Park Street southwards as far as the back of Gatehouse Square. The precise location of the building however, remained unknown until a small part of the foundations, including one original pier base, was discovered in 1989 beneath the car park at the rear of Anchor Terrace on Park Street. The shape of the foundations is now replicated on the surface. As the majority of the foundations lies beneath Anchor Terrace itself, which is a listed building, no further excavations have been permitted.
The Globe was owned by actors who were also shareholders in Lord Chamberlain's Men. Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage, owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Thomas Pope, owned a single share, or 12.5%. (Originally William Kempe was intended to be the seventh partner, but he sold out his share to the four minority sharers, leaving them with more than the originally planned 10%). These initial proportions changed over time as new sharers were added. Shakespeare's share diminished from 1/8 to 1/14, or roughly 7%, over the course of his career.
The Globe was built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, The Theatre, which had been built by Richard Burbage's father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 21-year lease of the site on which The Theatre was built but owned the building outright. However, the landlord, Giles Allen, claimed that the building had become his with the expiry of the lease. On 28 December 1598, while Allen was celebrating Christmas at his country home, carpenter Peter Street, supported by the players and their friends, dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it to Street's waterfront warehouse near Bridewell. With the onset of more favourable weather in the following spring, the material was ferried over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe on some marshy gardens to the south of Maiden Lane, Southwark.
On 29 June 1613 the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry the Eighth. A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching. According to one of the few surviving documents of the event, no one was hurt except a man whose burning breeches were put out with a bottle of ale. It was rebuilt in the following year.
Like all the other theatres in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was pulled down in 1644, or slightly later—the commonly cited document dating the act to 15 April 1644 has been identified as a probable forgery—to make room for tenements.
The Globe's actual dimensions are unknown, but its shape and size can be approximated from scholarly inquiry over the last two centuries. The evidence suggests that it was a three-storey, open-air amphitheatre approximately 100 feet (30 m) in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators. The Globe is shown as round on Wenceslas Hollar's sketch of the building, later incorporated into his engraved "Long View" of London in 1647. However, in 1988-89, the uncovering of a small part of the Globe's foundation suggested that it was a polygon of 20 sides.
At the base of the stage, there was an area called the pit, (or, harking back to the old inn-yards, yard) where, for a penny, people (the "groundlings") would stand on the rush-strewn earthen floor to watch the performance. During the excavation of the Globe in 1989 a layer of nutshells was found, pressed into the dirt flooring so as to form a new surface layer. Around the yard were three levels of stadium-style seats, which were more expensive than standing room.
A rectangle stage platform, also known as an 'apron stage', thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. The stage measured approximately 43 feet (13.1 m) in width, 27 feet (8.2 m) in depth and was raised about 5 feet (1.5 m) off the ground. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from the "cellarage" area beneath the stage.
Large columns on either side of the stage supported a roof over the rear portion of the stage. The ceiling under this roof was called the "heavens," and was painted with clouds and the sky. A trap door in the heavens enabled performers to descend using some form of rope and harness. The back wall of the stage had two or three doors on the main level, with a curtained inner stage in the centre and a balcony above it. The doors entered into the "tiring house" (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The balcony housed the musicians and could also be used for scenes requiring an upper space, such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Rush matting covered the stage, although this may only have been used if the setting of the play demanded it.
In 1970 American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust, and International Shakespeare Globe Centre with the objective of building a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe close to its original Bankside, Southwark location. While many had said that the Globe reconstruction was impossible to achieve, he persevered for over twenty years, and eventually a new Globe theatre was built according to a design based on the research of historical advisor John Orrell. The rest of the design team comprised Theo Crosby of Pentagram as the architect, Buro Happold as structural and services engineers and Boyden & Co as quantity surveyors. The construction was undertaken by McCurdy & Co.
The theatre opened in 1997 under the name "Shakespeare's Globe Theatre" and now stages plays every summer. Mark Rylance was appointed as the first artistic director in 1995 and was succeeded by Dominic Dromgoole In 2006.
The new theatre on Bankside is approximately 230 metres (750 ft) from the original site, centre to centre, and was the first thatched roof building permitted in London since the Great Fire of London in 1666.
As in the original Globe, the theatre has a thrust stage that projects into a large circular yard surrounded by three tiers of steeply raked seating.
The modern Globe from the river Thames.
The only covered parts of the amphitheatre are the stage and the (more expensive) seated areas. Plays are staged during the summer, usually between May and the first week of October, and in the winter the theatre is used for educational purposes. Tours are available all year round.
The reconstruction was carefully researched so that the new building would be as faithful a replica of the original as possible. This was aided by the discovery of the original Globe Theatre as final plans were being made for the site and structure. Performances are staged in a manner which is as close as possible to the original environment. There are no spotlights - the plays are staged during daylight hours and in the evenings (with the help of interior floodlights). There is no amplification - no microphones or speakers - the actors must project their natural voices into the theatre. All music is performed live on period instruments. The actors can see the audience, and the audience can see each other, adding to the feeling of shared experience and community event.
The building itself is constructed entirely of English oak - with mortise and tenon joinery. There is no structural steel anywhere. It is, in this sense, an "authentic" 16th century timber-framed building. The seats are simple benches (though cushions can be hired for performances) and the Globe has the first and only thatched roof in London since the Great Fire of 1666. The modern thatch is well protected by fire retardants, and sprinklers on the roof ensure further protection against fire. The pit however has concrete flooring as opposed to the original earthen ground covered with strewn rush. The "authentic" theatre is joined with a modern lobby, restaurant, gift shop and visitors' centre for the public and has extensive backstage support areas for the actors and musicians. Seating capacity is 857 with an additional 700 "groundlings" standing in the pit, making up an audience about half the size of a typical audience in Shakespeare's time.
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