Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London
William Shakespeare’s plays (38 survive) are performed more often than those of any other playwright. Audiences first met many of William Shakespeare’s characters on the stage of the Globe Theatre in London.
The original Globe was built in 1599 by a group headed by Cuthbert Burbage along with his partner and brother, Richard Burbage, a successful and well-regarded actor who originated the roles of some of Shakespeare’s most tragic heroes, including King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello. James Burbage, their father, had built the first Theatre in London.
In addition to being the company’s leading playwright, Shakespeare trod the boards of the Globe, although the cast lists that remain do not specify the roles that he played.
During a 1613 performance of “Henry VIII,” a wayward cannon shot set the Globe’s thatched roof on fire and the structure burned to the ground. The theater was rebuilt by 1614 and the playhouse continued to welcome audiences until 1642. That year, a decree issued by the Puritan leaders who had control of Parliament closed all theaters, including the Globe. The structure was torn down two years later.
Jump forward to 1949 when Sam Wanamaker looked for traces of the Globe Theatre and found only a plaque commemorating the theater’s site in Southwark. An American actor and director who made his home in England when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, Wanamaker dedicated much of his life to rebuilding Shakespeare’s theater. By 1970, Wanamaker had founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust.
In addition to energizing supporters, fundraising, and working with city authorities to gain clearances and building permits, the Trust worked with scholars and historians to build as precise a re-creation of Shakespeare’s theater as possible.
It is sad that Wanamaker, who died in 1993, did not live to see the opening of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1997. In addition to staging plays, the Globe’s educational arm works to expand appreciation for Shakespeare’s plays to students of all ages, and maintains exhibitions about Shakespearean and Elizabethan theater life.
Shakespeare’s Globe relied on solar power—an open roof provided illumination for performances. The new Globe does include electricity, but is also open to the elements; weather permitting, its season runs May to October. Some shows are staged with all-male casts as they would have been during Shakespeare’s time. Tours are offered throughout the day year-round, although there is no access to the theater during the season’s matinee performances.
by Katie Calvert