“All the world’s a stage”
– As You Like It, William Shakespeare.
The Globe that stands in London today is actually the third reincarnation. The first Globe was built around 1599 by Shakespeare and his company but because it was too expensive in the original location, it was moved to the other side of the river. This rebuild was then burnt down during a performance of Henry VIII when a cannon went through the thatched roof. It was rebuilt the following year but was then removed permanently by the Puritans. The new and current version was built by Sam Wanamaker, American actor and director, after a 20 year campaign and stands only a few hundred metres from its original location. Based on the original design and layout and historically accurate as possible, the new Globe is really spectacular. There are tours and a museum/display section, but the best part is that it still puts on plays. And with everything looking historically accurate you can experience what it was like to see a play almost as if it were in the 1600s.
During my visit to London a few years ago I was fortunate enough to see a rehearsal for Henry VI and it was so wonderful, it was one of the highlights of my trip. There really is something magical about live theatre, and to see a Shakespeare play being performed, not in the original but practically in the same environment, was pretty spectacular.
I’ve got some fun facts about the original Globe as well as its rebuild to share and I’ve linked a great page from No Sweat Shakespeare below that looks more into the theatre’s history.
1. The Globe Theatre was built between 1597 and 1599 in Southwark on the south bank of London’s River Thames, funded by Richard Burbage and built by carpenter Peter Smith and his workers.
2. The timber for The Globe Theatre was actually reused wood from “The Theatre” – an earlier theatre built in 1576 and owned by Burbage’s father. Due to a dispute with the landlord, Giles Allen, it closed 20 years later. While Allen was celebrating Christmas in 1598, William Shakespeare and his company dismantled The Theatre and transported the materials to the new site in Southwark.
3. The architectural style of The Globe was similar to the Coliseum in Rome, but on a smaller scale – other Elizabethan theatres also followed this style of architecture which were called amphitheatres.
4. The Globe had three stories of seating and was able to hold up to 3,000 spectators in its 100 foot diameter.
5. At the base of the stage was an area called “the pit” which held “the groundlings” – people who paid just a penny to stand and watch a performance.
6. At the peak of summer time the groundlings were also referred to as ‘stinkards’
The original Globe Theatre, complete with stage “apron”
7. Part of the stage was called the “apron stage” – a rectangular platform that thrust out amongst the audience into the pit.
8. William Shakespeare was a shareholder who owned 12.5% of The Globe Theatre. As a young writer Shakespeare bought shares in the theatre and benefited financially as his popularity grew.
9. Colour coded flags were used outside the theatre to advertise the type of play to be performed – a red flag for a history play, white for a comedy play and black for a tragedy play.
10. A crest above the main entrance to The Globe Theatre was inscribed with motto “Totus mundus agit histrionem” – Latin for “The whole world is a playhouse”.
11. At the start of each play after collecting money from the audience the admission collectors took boxes full of money to a room backstage – the box office
12. A trumpet was sounded to announce to people that the play was about to begin at the Globe Theatre in order for people to take their final places.
13. There were no actresses performing at The Globe Theatre – or any other theatre at that time. Female roles were played by young boys as theatre stages were considered too risqué a place for ladies.
14. Outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague were so serious in London that the Globe Theatre was forced to close in 1603 and 1608 to restrict its’ spread.
15. The Globe Theatre burnt down in 1613 when a special effect on stage went wrong. A cannon used for a performance of Henry VIII set light to the thatched roof and the fire quickly spread, reportedly taking less than two hours to burn down completely. No one was hurt but an account does claim a man’s trousers caught fire but a quick-thinking friend doused him with a flagon of beer.
16. After burning down in 1613 The Globe Theatre was rebuilt on the same spot in 1614.
17. The Puritans brought an end to The Globe Theatre in 1642 with an order suppressing all stage plays. In 1644 The Globe Theatre was turned into tenement housing, ending 85 years of turbulent history.
18. In 1997 a third version and faithful reconstruction of The Globe Theatre was built as “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre”, close to the original site in Southwark.
19. The Globe was generally considered to be a circular building, however when a small part of the theatre’s foundations were uncovered the late 1980’s it seems that the building was actually an icosagon (a 20 sided polygon).
20. This new Globe Theatre was built using 1,000 oak trees from English forests and 6,000 bundles of reeds from Norfolk for the thatched roof.
21. Each of the two big pillars on the stage is one oak tree. The builders had to measure lots of trees to find two just the right size.
22. The bricks in the foundations that hold the theatre up are copies of an actual Tudor brick.
23. Shakespeare’s Globe holds 1500 people, about half the number of the original Globe. People are bigger now and are less happy to squash up. Also people in Shakespeare’s time didn’t have to obey safety regulations.
24. Many Londoners were strict Protestants – Puritans in fact, who abhorred the theatres and many of the people they attracted and in 1596 London’s authorities banned the public presentation of plays and all theatres within the city limits of London. All theatres located in the City were forced to move to the South side of the River Thames
25. People who stand to watch a play at the Globe sometimes faint, especially in warm weather. The play with most fainting people is Titus Andronicus – there were 15 in one performance!
26. Music was an extra effect added in the 1600’s. The musicians would also reside in the Lords rooms
27. In just two weeks Elizabethan theatres could often present eleven performances of ten different plays.
28. Shakespeare’s first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, referred to a role performed by William Shakespeare at the Globe theatre as “the Ghost in his own Hamlet” in which he was at “the top of his performance”.
The New Globe
Absolute Shakespeare Globe Trivia
Shakespeare’s Globe Website
No Sweat Shakespeare – The Globe
No Sweat Shakespeare – Globe Facts
Shakespeare’s Globe – Facts
Globe Theatre Facts