The Globe is, perhaps, the most famous theatre in the world. This is due, in no small part, to the successes of playwright William Shakespeare, for years the Globe was the headquarters for the Bard and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men). Together, they formed one of the most formidable drama groups of the Elizabethan period. Today, Shakespeare’s success means that the Globe lives again, with a modern reconstruction only yards from the original theatre’s location. Here, the theatre not only serves as a museum, but also a working playhouse.
Rebuilt from the Ground Up
Before the Globe, James Burbage and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed in a place simply called The Theatre. Built in 1576, the lease ran out after twenty years, and after a dispute with the landlord, George Allen, Burbage opted to simply move the theatre, materials and all. Carpenter Peter Street and the players, including Shakespeare and James’ son Richard, took the theatre apart in Shoreditch while Allen was out of town, stored the materials in Street’s warehouse, and then had it shipped across the Thames to Southwark the next Spring to construct the Globe, which opened in 1599.
Do You Have a Flag?
In the days before advertising, theatres such as the Globe used flags to communicate the genre of play that was being performed that day. Red flags were for history plays, black flags for tragedy plays, and white for comedies.
The Globe has twenty sides, three floors, and could seat roughly 3,000 people. The raised stage measured 27 by 43 feet.
After fourteen years on the theatre scene, the Globe actually burned down in 1613 after a cannon used for Henry VIII caused the roof to catch fire. The entire building burned to the ground, but was rebuilt the next year in 1614. This version of the Globe was in operation until it finally closed in 1642. Two years later, the Puritans, believing that all theatre was inherently sinful, tore it down for good.
Origin of the Phrase
The motto of the Globe was “Totus mundus agit histrionem”, which means “The whole world is a playhouse”. Shakespeare reworded it for the play As You Like It into “All the world is a stage”.
Closed for Plague
In the 16th-17th Century, the spread of disease was a major concern and any large congregation of people provided excellent chances for new plague victims. As such, the Globe was shut down at several times to prevent the continued proliferation of the Bubonic Plague.
Shakespeare’s Globe, which was constructed in 1997, is a faithful recreation of the original Globe Theatre in Shoreditch. In addition to actual Shakespearean performances that take place there, the Globe also films its productions for broadcast all over the world. While one might be confused for thinking that Shakespeare in Love filmed there, the theatre in the film was a recreation of the Rose Theatre built solely as a set for the movie. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, however, you can delight in the fact that the Tenth Doctor episode, “The Shakespeare Code” really did use Shakespeare’s Globe as a location.
Monopoly on Entertainment
Since Shoreditch and other areas of modern South London were outside the City of London’s control, many entertainment industries set up shop there, including popular blood sports like bull and bear baiting, which also included heavy gambling. The theatres became so popular that, in 1591, a law was passed that closed them on Thursdays so that the baiting industries wouldn’t suffer too much.
Closed for the Winter
Due to the Globe being an open-air venue, it only hosted plays during the warmer months of the year. During Winter, the players would move their productions to indoor performance halls.
The Globe was originally built the mirror the Colosseum, but on a much smaller scale.