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Pix & notes: The Globe theater

I’ve been to two plays at Shakespeare’s Globe: The Tempest and Macbeth. Extraordinary, delightful, exceptional, memorable experiences, both times. I can’t recommend it too highly!

This wooden O: the Globe

Before 1576, when James Burbage built the Theatre for the sole purpose of staging plays, you enjoyed your theatrical performances in the home of a wealthy patron, the dining hall of your college, or the yard of common inn. I always think of that particular venue must have been like watching a performance of Our Town or Grease in the parking lot of a motel. Fun, if not very comfortable, and it must have been a beast for the actors.

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White Hart, Southwark

The Burbage had his brainstorm and built that round wooden building in Shoreditch, north of London’s city walls. That location was judiciously chosen. It’s nothing to walk up Bishopsgate, past the Dolphin and Bedlam Hospital — ten minutes if there’s a mad throng out of doors that day. But the City authorities have little to say about what goes on out here, so you have a better chance of putting on the show you want.

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Richard Burbage

The Theatre was so successful, other theaters were soon built. First the Curtain, also in Shoreditch, then Rose in Southwark. Then James’s son Richard formed a syndicate, so to speak, of actors in the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to build the Globe in Southwark. It was to be used exclusively by Lord Chamberlain’s Company. One of those actors was William Shakespeare, who made far more money from his shares in the building than he ever did as a writer. That proportion of return is still true today. 

The original Globe was built in 1599 and destroyed by fire in 1613. It was rebuilt in 1614, but closed by an ordinance of the Long Parliament in 1642. “The order cited the current “times of humiliation” and their incompatibility with “public stage-plays”, representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity.” And sorry, y’all, but I do not have the attentional capacity to read about the Long Parliament today!

Raised from the ashes

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Sam Wanamaker

So, the Globe was closed. It was a wooden building, mostly open to the elements. It wouldn’t have taken long to fall apart. It vanished, as far as we’re concerned, until an American actor and director named Sam Wanamaker became possessed by the desire to recreate the original theater, as close to its original location as possible. The man was nothing if not persistent. He established a trust, raised millions of dollars, and got the job done. It’s as authentic as anything can be, right down to the hand-whittled pegs that hold the walls together. Hats off, Mr. Wanamaker, wherever you are!

I also recommend the guided tour — more work for off-duty actors — which I think you can do any time of year. It’s fascinating, the whole story, of how they figured out what to build and where and how, scavenging old materials and re-learning lost crafts. Really a monumental effort and a testament to our love of Shakespeare and drama and great acting and all of it.

An incomparable experience

If you ever get to go to London during the season, do not miss the chance to see a play at the Globe. They do lots of things besides Shakespeare, but see a Shakespeare play. It’s so much fun! You’ll never forget it. I’m not a big theater-goer, though I always love it and wish I would go more, so perhaps this is commonplace — but I doubt it. I think the Globe is special, both for audience and actors, especially when the play is one of Will’s. Book that seat as far ahead as you possibly can. Go by yourself or with a crowd — just go. And lunch in the cafe first, because they have very stylish sandwiches.

I’ve been twice, to see The Tempest and Macbeth. Both times I booked in February for a late summer performance and got great seats in the second level of the gallery. Wear sunscreen! You’re not far from the stage anywhere in the Globe, really. It feels small, intimate, immediate. The groundlings — the people who stand up in the big space in front of the stage — are usually busloads of high school students these days, not smelly peasants. No pix, no snacks, so no throwing of hazelnut shells and apple cores. You don’t need to worry about people taking a piss at the end of your row anymore, either.

But you can expect interaction between actors and audience. That’s part of the fun. One of the greenest members of the cast was clearly fascinated by the audience and seemed to enjoy us as much as we enjoyed him. Now of course I can’t remember who he played and I’m not finding it by swiftly searching. He was one of the Scottish noblemen, possibly MacDuff. At one point he’s wondering where Donalbain has gone, I think — Duncan’s son. He asks his questions of the groundlings, looking them right in the eye. One of them is so overcome by the force of the questions, he cried, “I got nothing for you, man!” We all laughed.

That would’ve been better if I remembered the lines. But go yourselves, and come back with a better story. Here are a few photographs to whet your appetites.

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Pix & notes: Blackfriars

Lady Elizabeth Russell lived in Blackfriars, as you know by now if you’ve been reading this blog. If you just tuned in, here’s Lady Russell, part one and Lady Russell, part two. Those posts are largely based on Chris Laoutaris’s biography of that august personage. A central theme for that book is Lady Russell’s successful obstructing of Shakespeare and Co.’s efforts to establish an indoor theater in “her parish,” so he goes to great lengths to reconstruct the district and figure out who lived where, when. I don’t concern myself with the Shakespeare conflict, but since Lady Russell’s a recurring character in my Francis Bacon mystery series, I want to know how to move my people around in that space. Besides, I love poring over old maps and house plans.

In the beginning

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Baynard’s Castle, kiped from the Londonist, who don’t cite their source either.

In the Middle Ages, there were three castles on the north side of the Thames between St. Paul’s Cathedral and Whitefriars, a Carmelite priory just east of the Inner Temple, which was a redoubt of lawyers even then.

Baynard’s Castle survived through Elizabethan times, during which it was the property of the Earl of Pembroke. It was demolished by the great fire of 1666. Montifiquet Castle was pulled down in 1276 to make room for Dominican friars, who wore black capes. BHO (British History Online) is silent about the third Norman fortification. I’m not sure where it could have been squeezed in. Bridewell Palace wasn’t there yet, but its place was occupied by an inn.

King Edward I and Queen Eleanor lavishly supported the black friars, whose monastery rose up beside the Fleet River, which didn’t stink in those halcyon days. Henry VIII dissolved that monastery along with all the rest, sending the friars packing. Edward VI sold the hall and prior’s lodgings to Sir Francis Bryan, a courtier, afterwards granting Sir Francis Cawarden, Master of the Revels, the whole house and precincts. By that time, Bridewell had been built across the Fleet, which was growing stinkier by the year, what with London’s burgeoning population and booming industries.

Lady Russell’s habitation

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Blackfriars in Lady Russell’s time, as recreated by Chris Laoutaris

Elizabeth Russell’s house and gardens are at the top left, at the corner of Carter Lane and Water Lane. Carter Lane is still there, which helps orient on new maps.

Her neighbors, working clockwise, were Richard Field with his printing press and a nice-sized garden, followed by William de Lawne in the square tower at the top right. The big dashed-line areas on the right are “Part of William More’s mansion and gardens.” Sir William acquired the whole kit and kaboodle from Thomas Cawarden in 1559. His personal chunk of the liberty may have continued off the page toward the east.

St. Anne’s Church, which for Elizabeth’s time was a cramped upstairs chamber, comes next. Coming around the bottom of the dial, we find the mansion of George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, one of Shakespeare’s patrons; Shakespeare’s Blackfriars theatre, comprising seven upper rooms formerly belonging to Wm De Lawne; Farrant’s theatre; and the strangely articulated residence of William Brooke, Lord Cobham. At the far left edge, abutting the west side of Lady Russell’s house, we find two more pieces of William de Lawne’s establishment and one more house at the top right corner inhabited by Peter Buram.

These places must have been pretty nice inside, with lots of oak paneling and diamond-paned windows, though it’s hard to envision the floorplans. We must remember that there are two and three stories in these structures, with floors that don’t always line up. There were other smaller establishments tucked in here and there too, over time, perhaps, like a goldsmith’s shop and other upscale trades.There must have been a lot of jostling among the great and lesser folks alike.

I continue to refuse to try to cram the stuff about Shakespeare into one of my posts… maybe someday I’ll set a book in the conflict, but until then, I can’t face it!

Blackfriars in the middle

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Anthony Van Dyck self portrait

The middle being the centuries between my periods of novelistic interest. I skip swiftly past them.

Bridges were built over the Thames at Blackfriars, the first in 1760. They had to fill in the Fleet Ditch, as it was called by then. They kept trying to rename these bridges, but the people continued to call them Blackfriars, century after century.

Artists enjoyed the district, including Anthony Van Dyck, inventor of the micro-beard, who enjoyed Charles I’s patronage as well.

“The king’s printing-office for proclamations, &c., used to be in Printing-house Square, but was removed in 1770; and we must not forget that where a Norman fortress once rose to oppress the weak, to guard the spoils of robbers, and to protect the oppressor, the Times printing-office now stands, to diffuse its ceaseless floods of knowledge, to spread its resistless ægis over the poor and the oppressed, and ever to use its vast power to extend liberty and crush injustice, whatever shape the Proteus assumes, whether it sits upon a throne or lurks in a swindler’s office.”

The Bridges of Blackfriars

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Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames, early nineteenth century

 A later incarnation was a two-level bridge with carriages below and pedestrians above. The expense was huge and the outcry loud.

“The Quarterly Review, of April, 1872, contains the following bitter criticisms of the new double bridge:—”With Blackfriars Bridge,” says the writer, “we find the public thoroughly well pleased, though the design is really a wonder of depravity. Polished granite columns of amazing thickness, with carved capitals of stupendous weight, all made to give shop-room for an apple-woman, or a convenient platform for a suicide. The parapet is a fiddlefaddle of pretty cast-iron arcading, out of scale with the columns, incongruous with the capitals, and quite unsuited for a work that should be simply grand in its usefulness; and at each corner of the bridge is a huge block of masonry, àpropos of nothing, a well-known evidence of desperate imbecility.””

Whew! Was the architect the first to jump off his bridge, after reading that ungentle review?

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Here’s a bridge over the meandering Fleet, much more than a ditch, at least by Texas standards. Water courses have highly localized names. Ditch might mean, “slow-moving and full of garbage,” in that variety of English. It connects Blackfriars on the right with whatever is on the left… Bridewell or its replacement, presumably. This drawing is Old Blackfriars Bridge. “From the work usually known as ‘James’s Views,’ published May 9, 1825.” Source: Old Manchester, Plate 38. 

 

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Blackfriars Bridge today. Nice, huh?

 

Blackfriars then and now

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Blackfriars on the Agas map, 1561. I think I got those yellow lines right. That’s the Fleet River angling northward to the left of our district of interest.
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Part of Blackfriars on John Rocque’s 1746 map of london. See the word DITCH? That’s our friend the Fleet.
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Blackfriars today. That white road running up the middle is Farringdon Road, built over the Fleet River in the mid-nineteenth century.
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Somewhere in there. The whole area was bombed to smithereens, but property lines are amazingly persistent.
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St. Ann’s church yard. These are persistent too, especially now that working people have to smoke outside.

References

British History Online, Blackfriars: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol1/pp200-219 

Laoutaris, Chris. 2015. Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe. London: Penguin Books.