The New Globe Theatre

by Mallory Cortez

Imagine a place where both rich and poor alike could congregate and regularly feast their eyes upon magnificent performances of theatre, seeing plays not just by any playwright, but by William Shakespeare. This place would be none other than Shakespeare's Globe Theatre rebuilt in 1993 in the district of Southwark, London, located on the Southside of the Thames River.

The new Globe was built after scholars conducted years of research to find documentation for the original Globe Theatre. Many questions regarding the historical Globe remained unanswered and the builders were often forced to compromise. They did their best to build the new Globe with as much historical accuracy as possible so that people today can enjoy plays by Shakespeare and by other artists, as Britons had during the Elizabethan period. To more fully appreciate the new Globe, we must assess the limited historical information available for the original Globe Theatre and examine the scholarship for the life of William Shakespeare.

As famous as Shakespeare is today, an authoritative account of his life is lacking. Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 at Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire. It is known he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Shakespeare was the third of eight children and the eldest son of John Shakespeare (1551-1601), a locally prominent merchant, and Mary Arden (1556-1608), the daughter of a Roman Catholic member of the landed gentry. It is believed that he was educated at the local grammar school. Due to his father's financial situation, Shakespeare was not able to continue his education. Because his plays show knowledge of hunting and hawking, it can be assumed that Shakespeare was allowed considerable leisure time in his youth. For some reason, contrary to custom, he was not apprenticed to his father's shop. According to one account he was apprenticed to a butcher because of reverses in his father's financial situation and according to another account, he became a schoolmaster. It is known that in 1582 he married Anne Hathaway (1557? -1623), the daughter of a farmer. He is supposed to have left Stratford after he was caught poaching in the deer park owned by Sir Thomas Lucy, a local justice of the peace (Fairclough 1-4).

Shakespeare arrived in London in 1588 and by 1592 he had attained success as an actor and a playwright. He owned an acting company, the Chamberlain's Men, which was later called the King's Men, and had part ownership of the two theatres the company performed at, the Theatre located in Blackfriars and later, at the Globe Theatre.

Shakespeare's theatre group first performed in the Theatre. James Burbage built the Theatre in 1576 and left it to his son Cuthbert Burbage. In 1598 the lease for the land on which the Theatre stood was not renewed and Burbage had the Theatre torn down. The building materials were used for the construction of a new structure called the Globe Theater located across the Thames River in the district of Bankside. Fifty percent of the Globe was owned by Cuthbert and Richard Burbage and the other fifty percent was held by five of the Chamberlain's men: John Heminge, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, Will Kempe, and Shakespeare. By 1599 the Globe theatre was completed and the first recorded performance of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare took place on September 21st (Shakespeare Resource Center).

The Globe Theatre was located on the south side to the Thames River in the Southwark district, which operated outside the legal reach of London's city officials. The area was part of what could have been called the "sporting district" of Greater London where theatre was relegated by London Authorities along with cock fighting, bear baiting, and taverns. The Globe Theatre was one of four major theatres in the area. The other three were the Swan, the Rose, and the Hope (Mulyryne and Shewring).

The design of the original Globe was reconstructed from drawings of other theatres of this era as well as from written descriptions. From these sources it was determined that the Globe was an open amphitheatre with seating capacity for 2,000 to 3,000 spectators. It was difficult to ascertain the exact size of a typical audience because the Globe Theatre was open to the poor and the rich alike. The poor usually stood in the pits located near the stage while the wealthier audience sat in seats probably located in covered galleries along the outer walls of the theatre.

The stage of the Globe was a level platform that was about 43 feet in width and 27 to 28 feet deep that was raised off the ground by about 5 feet. The stage was surrounded on three sides by the pit. The galleries with seating were above the pit and may have been covered. On the fourth side of the stage, was a "tiring house" where costume changes were made (Mulyryne and Shewring).

No artificial lighting was used so that performances were conducted during the day, probably between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. The stage was open air, so acoustics were poor and the actors were compelled to shout and clearly enunciate their lines and use exaggerated theatrical gestures. Due to the fact that the theatre was open, there was probably a great deal of outside noise from the boats on the riverfront, from iron-shot horses, and from the wheels of carts.

There was no background scenery although the stage was sometimes decorated with painted cloth and the whole playhouse was brilliantly painted. One of the most beautiful decorations, recreated at the new Globe, was the painting of The Heavens above the stage depicting the sun, moon, and stars.

Costumes were very important to the plays in the Elizabethan theatre and were to establish each actor's character. Fine and expensive costumes were used to portray kings and queens, Roman soldiers, ghosts, and clowns. Props such as beds, thrones, and tents were used during the plays and could be carried onto the stage, lowered from above, or pushed up through a trapdoor in the stage floor.

Changes in scenes were signaled by the speeches and narrative situations that Shakespeare wrote into the text of his plays. Music was used in the theatre because a great many sounds were needed in the plays. Musicians either performed in the balcony above the stage or on the stage itself. Performances required sounds from bells, trumpets and other instruments; the sounds of noisy crowds off-stage; and sound effects to resemble thunder and sea storms, and even gunfire. Actors stationed in the tiring house provided most of the sound effects ("The Globe Theatre and Key Facts").

All actors' roles during the Elizabethan period were male. It was no different at the Globe. Teenage boys, apprenticed to adult-members of the company, played the female roles until they matured at age 17 or 18 (Shakespeare Resource Center).

Although the Elizabethan theater was considered a form of popular entertainment, the Globe set itself apart by virtue of being formally patronized by the Lord Chamberlain of Queen Elizabeth and latter King James I himself. While Queen Elizabeth I never attended a performance at the Globe, the actors would give special performances at the Royal Palaces. Shakespeare's plays were presented to the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I more frequently than those of any other contemporary dramatist.

During 1592-1593 an outbreak of plaque struck London and closed its theatres, causing Shakespeare to turn from playwriting to composing poetry. The publication of Venus and Adonis (1593), the Rape of Lucrece (1594), and his Sonnets (published 1609, but circulated previously in manuscript) established his reputation as a poet working in the Renaissance manner. However, Shakespeare's reputation today is largely based on the 38 plays that he wrote or co-authored ("Shakespeare, William", Funk & Wagnalls).

After 1608 Shakespeare spent more time at Stratford where he established his family in a great house, called New Place, and became a leading citizen. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried in the Stratford church (Fairclough1-4).

The Globe Theatre burned to the ground on June 29, 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII when a cannon shot used for sound effects ignited the thatched roof of the gallery. Construction of a new theatre was begun immediately. A new Globe was built on the original foundation however, a tiled roof replaced the flammable straw. The structure was completed in 1614 two years before Shakespeare's died. The new Globe flourished until it was closed down in 1642 along with all other theatres when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power. In 1644, the Globe was demolished in order to build tenements on the property ("Globe Theatre," Funk & Wagnalls").

The contemporary Globe, completed in 1997, was not planned as just a replica of the Elizabethan theatre, it was designed to be a memorial to Shakespeare and his works. The person most responsible for the new Globe was Sam Wanamaker. Wanamaker was actually born in Chicago on June 14, 1919, but lived in the United Kingdom for many years. The actor's first job in theatre was as a Shakespearean actor at the Great Lakes' World Fair in Cleveland, Ohio. Wanamaker worked on Broadway where he produced, directed, and acted in plays. He also directed and acted in Hollywood films. In 1949 Wanamaker first visited the United Kingdom and returned again in 1951 when he decided to remain in Britain.

On a visit to London, Wanamaker was dismayed to see that the only remnant of the Globe Theatre was a blackened plaque near the Southwark Bridge. He then decided to devote his life to creating a faithful reconstruction of this important historical building. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust in 1970 with the central object of raising funds to rebuild the Globe (The Shakespeare Globe Trust, "Bio of Sam Wanamaker").

Wanamaker faced criticism when his detractors said that an accurate reproduction of the Globe could not be constructed because of the lack of historical information. There were no original architectural plans or drawings that clearly depicted the original Globe Theatre. Thus, Wanamaker gathered a team of academics and scholars to solve these problems. They studied archaeological excavations, historical panoramas, maps, buildings contracts, historical accounts, and drawings of other theaters from that era. A sketch of the interior of the Swan Theatre located in Bankside, London, for example, documented the appearance of the stage of a typical public theater. Theo Crosby was named the lead architect on the project, a position Jon Greenfield held after Crosby died, and Peter Streete was named the Master carpenter for the Globe (Hillenbrand).

Many British politicians serving on local councils objected to money being spent on culture rather than on housing and other social welfare. Wanamaker raised over £30 million needed to complete this project. He pioneered in the effort to rebuild the Globe as close as possible to the location of the original theatre. Once the foundation of the Globe was discovered Wanamaker acquired the 1.2 acre site beside the River Thames opposite St. Paul's Cathedral, only 200 yards from the location of the original theatre. In 1987 this site was cleared and made ready for the groundbreaking ceremony that occurred in July. The actual construction of the theatre didn't begin until 1993, sadly the same year Wanamaker died (Kroll & Miller 77).

Workmen used traditional methods and materials to build the new Globe. It is the first thatched building in central London since the Great Fire of 1666. Over 6,000 bundles of Norfolk water reed were used on the Globe's roof and over 36,000 handmade bricks were used. The Tudor style brickwork was made of ninety tons of lime putty and the walls were constructed of 180 tons of lime plaster. Peter McCurdy stated in an interview, "I am proud that the general way we constructed the whole structure is entirely consistent with the practices of 1595" (Hillenbrand). Despite such enthusiasm, some compromises had to be made. For example, goat hair had to be used to give body to the plaster due to the fact that no cow hair of the proper and authentic length could be found.

The new Globe Theatre now stands 33 feet high to the eaves and 45 feet overall. The pillars, which are used to hold up the roof over the stage, are 28 feet high and weigh 3 tons (The Shakespeare Globe Trust, "The Globe Theatre: Key Facts").

Construction on the Globe was completed by 1997 and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip celebrated the opening of the Globe on June 12, 1997. Since the opening three components related to its educational mission have contributed to the theatre's success. First there is the Globe Theatre itself, with a professional theatre company that works with international artists to perform a full season of plays each summer. Second is Globe Education, which works with students of all ages to study Shakespeare's scripts in terms of performance. Lastly, there is Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition, a comprehensive exhibition devoted to Shakespeare and his company. The three projects attract more than 750,000 people per annum to the new Globe. While the cost of developing Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition and the International Globe Center has been £30 million, it has been estimated that an additional £15 million is needed to complete the projects (Shakespeare Resource Center).

On Friday, June 4, 2004, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the famous Shakespeare's Globe Theater with a group of classmates. The performance was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. so we met around 1:15 p.m. and purchased our £5 tickets, which is roughly $10 in American currency. Once we purchased our tickets, we stood in line at Door 4 to wait to enter the yard. We waited with anticipation for the doors to be opened and once they were, we had our first glimpse into the interior of the famous theater. It was almost like traveling back through time to Elizabethan England.

The first thing I noticed was that the amphitheater was open and that the theatre was smaller than I had expected, small enough to where every person, whether they were seated in either of the three levels of wooden bleachers surrounding the stage or standing in the yard, was never very far from the stage. The stage was very elaborate with wooden columns that were made to look like red and gold marble. Red, and gold, green, blue, and white were the main colors used to accentuate the stage. The most beautiful part of the Globe Theatre was the painting of The Heavens above the stage. This painting is on a blue backdrop made to look like the sky with a drawing of a magnificent sun surrounded by the signs of the zodiac and many stars.

Because we were in the yard we had the opportunity to stand as close to the stage as possible. I was even able to lean on the stage. The backdrop of the stage had two levels. The first level was even with the stage and had three entrances, the middle consisted of two wooden doors, which were closed during most of the performance. The second level consisted of a balcony protruding over the stage where musicians performed music in costume playing instruments characteristic of the Elizabethan period. A trapdoor on the stage provided access to a lower chamber beneath the stage. During the performance Romeo walked through the trapdoor using it as though it was the entrance to a tomb.

The style of acting was different from the plays performed in theatres with modern sound systems. The actors had to talk loud so that their voices could be heard throughout the amphitheater. They made the play very enjoyable causing the audience to laugh early in the performance and then making them sad enough to cry at the end of the play. The play began with improvisation: one actor came out and made the general announcement about turning off cell phones and then another actor stated the same announcement which initiated an argument between the two characters. This led to the sword fight between the two houses in the first act of Romeo and Juliet. The actors also interacted with the audience, especially members of our group because we were leaning on the stage. They pointed to members of the audience during certain parts of the play and even asked one audience member if they could read a list of names.

The play we attended had both male and female actors. Two of the roles for female characters were played by male actors. The most memorable was Juliet's nurse. It was quite funny to see a middle aged man playing an old female nurse, which gave me a greater appreciation for how the plays must have been in the Elizabethan times when all the actors were male.

Another feature that made seeing Romeo and Juliet performed at the Globe theatre ideal was the natural lighting. This had unforeseen advantages. During most of the humorous scenes when Romeo and Juliet first meet and fall in love, the weather was fairly sunny. When the play became serious it actually got cloudy and started drizzling, which just added to the sober mood on stage.

I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to see a Shakespeare play performed at the Globe Theatre. While I have read Romeo and Juliet, seen the play performed at a hometown theater, and watched different film adaptations, the performance at the Globe Theatre was the most enjoyable for me. It was one of the best performances I have experienced and I know that my classmates also enjoyed it. The only negative comment I heard was from one classmate who said, "My feet hurt". Such discomfort can be avoided by buying a seat ticket for a little more money. I would recommend that if one has the opportunity to travel to London, they visit Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and experience the performance of a play by Shakespeare in a setting they will never forget.

Works Cited

Fairclough, H. Rushton. " Some Acount of the Life & c. of Mr. William Shakespeare". Classical Library, Harvard, 1926. (2004).

"The Globe Theatre". Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. 2002.

Hawthorne, Christopher. "Measuring the Globe." Architecture. Vol. 89 Issue 8 (August 2000): 50-55.

Hillenbrand, Barry. "A Long-Overdue Encore." Time . Vol. 149, Issue 25 (June 23, 1997): 83.

Kroll, Jack and Miller, Suzanne. "London's Brave New Globe." Newsweek Vol.129, Issue 25 (June 23, 1997): 77

Lennon, David. "Shakespeare's Globe Reborn after 400 Years." Europe . Issue 357 (June 1996): 47-49.

Moore, R. "Shakespeare's Globe Theatre". (2000-2004).

Mulryne, J.R., and Shewring, Margaret Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt. Cambridge University Press. 1997.

O'Brian, Tom. "All the Globe's A Stage." World & I, Vol. 11, Issue 9 (September 1996): 102-106.

"Shakespeare and The Globe". Directed: Paul Shepand, Produced: Hugh Richmand. Princeton, New Jersey, (1988).

The Shakespeare Globe Trust. "Frequently Asked Question"; "Shakespeare's Globe A Brief Introduction"; "Shakespeare's Globe"; "Key Dates"; "The Globe Theatre and Key Facts"; "Bio of Sam Wanamaker". (2004).

Shakespeare Resource Center. "Shakespeare's Globe". (1997-2004).

"Shakespeare, William". Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. 2002.