Mention William Shakespeare and London in the same breath and everyone immediately thinks of one building – the reconstructed Globe on Bankside. So we thought that to kick off our new series – being run in honour of the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth – we’d take a look at history of the iconic structure.
The original Globe Theatre, located a few hundred metres to the south, opened in 1599 as a home for the actors’ company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later renamed the King’s Men on the accession of King James I in 1603), of which Shakespeare was a member. Founded by James Burbage, this merry band was originally was housed at London’s first purpose-built playhouse Shoreditch before lease disputes led them to establish a new theatre in Southwark, close to the then existing theatre, The Rose.
Up and running by 1599 (Shakespeare was among four actors who bought a share in the property to help fund the new building which used timbers from the former Shoreditch theatre), the new theatre was used for 14 years until, during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, wadding from a stage cannon ignited and the theatre burned to the ground. Rebuilt with a tiled roof, it remained the home of the company until it was closed down by the Puritan government in 1642 and demolished two years later.
You can see the original site of The Globe just in nearby Park Street. The shape of the structure is marked by a dark line embedded in the pavement (pictured).
The reconstructed building which stands proudly by the water today was the vision of the late American actor, director and producer, Sam Wanamaker. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust which, with the on-site assistance of Queen Elizabeth II, opened the theatre at its current site in 1997 (sadly, Wanamaker had died three-and-a-half-years previously).
The building’s design was drawn from sifting through what little historical evidence could be found including the findings of an archaeological dig at the original site, descriptions contained in Shakespeare’s plays (including the line from Henry V – “Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’), and printed panoramas from the time, although it should be noted that much – particularly the design of the stage – is speculative.
Meanwhile the techniques used in the construction of the theatre were the subject of years of research and were in accord with those of the early 17th century and included using oak laths and staves to support lime plaster and then covering the walls in white lime wash while the roof was made of water reed thatch.
One of the best ways to see the theatre and make the most of the atmosphere is to see a play from a standing position in the pit!
WHERE: Globe Theatre Exhibition & Tour, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk (nearest Tube stations are Southwark and London Bridge); WHEN: Exhibition is open 9am to 5.30pm daily – tours run at various times, see website for details; COST: Exhibition and tour cost is £13.50 adults/£12 seniors/£11 students/£8 children (5-15 with children under five free)/£36 family of four; WEBSITE: www.shakespearesglobe.com.