Known as the “Bard of Avon,” William Shakespeare is regarded as one of the greatest writers in history. His plays, sonnets and poems have been translated into every major living language. This article will not deal with his work, however; instead it will introduce the reader to the Globe Theater and its history. The Globe Theater itself had an extremely important role in the Bard’s life, since some of his best stage works were first produced there. It was located on the south side of the River Thames in the Southwark district of London and was built in 1599 by Cuthbert Burbage, who himself was a close associate of Shakespeare.
The Globe Theater Structure
It is estimated that the Globe Theater could hold between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators. The theater itself did not have lighting, so the performances were scheduled according to the weather and always during the day. Because the stage was an open-air structure, acting was anything but a simple task. For example, the acoustics were very poor and actors had to shout their lines, forcing them to create exaggerated theatrical gestures. Furthermore, there wasn’t any background scenery. Instead, scene changes were indicated either implicitly or explicitly through the speeches conducted by the actors themselves. On the other hand, costumes and props were always used.
The theater’s stage was a level platform. The dimensions of the stage were 43 feet in width, approximately 28 feet deep and 5 feet from the ground. The stage itself had several mechanisms and distinct sections that were utilized by Shakespeare in his directions. Further, the stage was surrounded by the pit, where spectators stood, but there was also a seating section, which was partially covered (contrary to the pit and stage that were completely under open air). On the back side of the stage, there was a room where actors changed their costumes.
Audience and Actors
The theatre was equally visited by people of all social statuses–poor people, rich people, those who were educated and others. During Shakespeare’s era, acting was a treacherous way of life; many stage players were the subject of possible arrest, due to their vagrant lifestyle.
The records show that there were 26 actors considered among the Shakespeare’s company “Principal Actors.” One of the actors was Richard Burbage, a brother of Cuthbert Burbage. Richard Burbage was also an owner of Blackfriars Theatre, another venue but smaller than the Globe Theater. Further, he was the main initiator of performances of Hamlet, Othello and many other famous Shakespearean characters.
On June 29, 1613, a cannon was fired during the performance of Henry VIII. As a result, a thatched roof kindled and the Globe Theater ended up in flames. In the following year, the theater was reconstructed, but 30 years later (in 1642), a new anti-theater regime closed all theaters in England. Finally, in 1644, the theater was torn down, and the Globe Theater’s history officially ended.
Aliki: William Shakespeare and the Globe, Perfection Learning Corporation, 2000.
Don Nardo: The Globe Theater, Blackbirch Press, 2005.