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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