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Globe Theatre

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The Globe Theatre refers to one of three theatres in London associated with William Shakespeare. The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by the playing company, Lord Chamberlain's Men, to which Shakespeare belonged, and was destroyed by fire on June 29 1613. The Globe Theatre was rebuilt by June 1614 and closed in 1642. A modern reconstruction of the original Globe, named "Shakespeare's Globe Theatre" or the "New Globe Theatre," opened in 1997. It is approximately 205 meters from the site of the original theatre off Park Street.

The original Globe

The modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, in London.

The Globe was owned by actors who were also shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage, owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Thomas Pope, owned a single share, or 12.5%. (Originally William Kempe was intended to be the seventh partner, but he sold out his share to the four minority sharers, leaving them with more than the originally planned 10%). These initial proportions changed over time, as new sharers were added. Shakespeare's share diminished from 1/8 to 1/14, or roughly 7%, over the course of his career.

The Globe was built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, The Theatre, that had been built by Richard Burbage's father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 21-year lease of the site on which The Theatre was built, they dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe.

A copy, based on Hollar's 1647 London panorama, of the 2nd Globe Theatre.

On June 29, 1613, the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry the Eighth. A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching. According to one of the few surviving documents of the event, no one was hurt except a man whose burning breeches were put out with a bottle of ale.

Like all the other theatres in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642 after it was rebuilt in 1614. It was destroyed in 1644 to make room for tenements. Its exact location remained unknown until remnants of its foundations were discovered in 1989 beneath the car park of Anchor Terrace on Park Street (the shape of the foundations are replicated in the surface of the car park). There may be further remains beneath Anchor Terrace, but the 18th century terrace is listed and therefore cannot be disturbed by archaeologists.

Layout of the Globe

The Globe's actual dimensions are unknown, but its shape and size can be approximated from scholarly inquiry over the last two centuries. The evidence suggests that it was a three-story, open-air amphitheatre approximately 100ft in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators. The Globe is shown as round on Wenceslas Hollar's sketch of the building, later incorporated into his engraved "Long View" of London in 1647. However, in 1997-98, the uncovering of a small part of the Globe's foundation suggested that it was a polygon of 20 sides.

At the base of the stage, there was an area called the pit, (or, harking back to the old inn-yards, yard) where, for a penny, people (the "groundlings") would stand to watch the performance. Groundlings would eat hazelnuts during performances — during the excavation of the Globe, nutshells were found preserved in the dirt — or oranges. Around the yard were three levels of stadium-style seats, which were more expensive than standing room.

The stage of the modern Globe Theatre.

A rectangle stage platform, also known as an 'apron stage', thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. The stage measured approximately 43 feet (13.1m) in width, 27 feet (8.2m) in depth and was raised about 5 feet (1.52m) off the ground. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from the "cellarage" area beneath the stage.

Large columns on either side of the stage supported a roof over the rear portion of the stage. The ceiling under this roof was called the "heavens," and was painted with clouds and the sky. A trap door in the heavens enabled performers to descend using some form of rope and harness. The back wall of the stage had two or three doors on the main level, with a curtained inner stage in the centre and a balcony above it. The doors entered into the "tiring house" (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The balcony housed the musicians and could also be used for scenes requiring an upper space, such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet.

The modern Globe

51°30′29″N 0°5′50″W

Globe Theatre
General information
Type Theatre
Architectural style Replica Elizabethan
Location London, England
Completed 1997
Design and construction
Architect Pentagram
Structural engineer Buro Happold
Services engineer Buro Happold
Other designers McCurdy & Co. Ltd. (timber consultant)
Quantity surveyor Boyden & Co
Main contractor McCurdy & Co. Ltd.

At the instigation of American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, a new Globe theatre was built according to a design based on the research of historical advisor John Orrell. The rest of the design team comprised Theo Crosby of Pentagram as the architect, Buro Happold as structural and services engineers and Boyden & Co as quantity surveyors. The construction was undertaken by McCurdy & Co. It opened in 1997 under the name "Shakespeare's Globe Theatre" and now stages plays every summer (May to October). Mark Rylance was appointed as the first artistic director of the modern Globe in 1995. In 2006, Dominic Dromgoole took over.

The new theatre on Bankside is approximately 225 yards (205m) from the original site, centre to centre, and was the first thatched roof building permitted in London since the Great Fire of London in 1666.

As in the original Globe, the theatre has a thrust stage that projects into a large circular yard surrounded by three tiers of steeply raked seating. The only covered parts of the amphitheatre are the stage and the (more expensive) seated areas. Plays are put on during the summer, usually between May and the first week of October. In the winter the theatre is used for educational purposes. Tours are available all year round.

The reconstruction was carefully researched so that the new building would be as faithful a replica as possible. This was aided by the discovery of the original Globe Theatre as final plans were being made of the site. Modernizations include the addition of lights (plays in Shakespeare's time were held during the day), sprinklers on the roof to protect against fire, and the fact that the theatre is partly joined onto a modern lobby, visitors centre and additional backstage support areas. Seating capacity is 1,380, with a further 500 "groundlings" standing (and you must stand, no sitting allowed) in the pit, an audience about half the size of that in Shakespeare's time.

Other replicas

Globe-Theatre, Schwäbisch Hall, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

A number of replicas or free interpretations of the Globe have been built around the world:

  • U.S.A.
    • OSF Elizabethan Theatre, Ashland, Oregon, built in 1935, rebuilt 1947 and 1959
    • San Diego, Old Globe Theatre, built in 1935
    • Cedar City, Utah, Adams Shakespearean Theatre
    • Dallas, Texas, Old Globe Theatre, built 1936
    • Odessa, Texas, The Globe Theatre Of The Great Southwest
    • Williamsburg, Virginia, Globe Theatre, built 1975 in the Banbury Cross section obo Gardens Europe
    • There is currently an effort to create a Globe Theatre in New York City.
  • Germany
    • Neuss am Rhein, Globe Neuss, built 1991
    • Rust, Baden, Germany, Europa-Park, built 2000
    • Schwäbisch Hall, Baden-Württemberg
  • Italy
  • Czech Republic
    • Prague, built 1999, burned down in 2005
  • Japan
    • Tokyo, Isozakia Arata's Panasonic Globe Theatre in Tokyo, built 1988

Replica of similar Elizabethan theatre:

  • Waseda University Tsubouchi Shoyo Memorial Library Theatre (a replica of The Fortune Theatre), built early 1900s


  • Day, Barry: This Wooden 'O': Shakespeare's Globe Reborn. Oberon Books, London, 1997. ISBN 1-870259-99-8.
  • Rylance, Mark: Play: A Recollection in Pictures and Words of the First Five Years of Play at Shakespeares's Globe Theatre. Photogr.: Sheila Burnett, Donald Cooper, Richard Kolina, John Tramper. Shakespeare's Globe Publ., London, 2003. ISBN 0-9536480-4-4.
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