The Globe Theatre

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The Globe Theatre
In 1949, an American actor Sam Wanamaker H came to London and decided to visit the B site of the famous Globe Theatre where Shakespeare had staged his plays. All he found, however, was a plaque on the wall of a brewery: "Here stood the Globe Playhouse of Shakespeare". Wanamaker was so shocked that he decided to rebuild the Globe.

It took many years to raise the money, get permission and find out exactly what the place looked like in the old days.

On June 12, 1997, Her Majesty Queen opened the International Shakespeare Globe Centre, the re-creation of Shakespeare's theatre. Unfortunately, Sam Wanamaker died in 1993 and wasn't in the audience to see his dream finally come true.

Today, you can visit the beautiful new Globe, and in summer you can even see a play performed as it would have been in Shakespeare's day.

How It All Began
Over 400 years ago, young William Shakespeare left Stratford-upon-Avon for London.

The city was noisy, dangerous and probably very smelly as there were no drains in those days. There was only one bridge across the Thames at that time, so the river was full of sailing ships. The narrow cob-bled streets were bustling with traders and traveling players, juggling, fire-eating and performing plays.

There were several playhouses in London and one of them, called the Theatre, was popular with none other than Queen Elizabeth I. It was at the Theatre that Shakespeare began his acting career and started to write plays. It's highly probable that The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet and some other plays by Shakespeare were performed for the first time on this stage.

Very soon, however, the actors were told that they could no longer use the land that their theatre was built on. The landlord had refused to renew the contract. The company had nowhere else to perform. Rumour has it that in the dead of night the whole acting troop took down their theatre, timber by timber, brick by brick. They carried it across the river where they rebuilt it in its new home in Southwark. They called it the Globe to celebrate the new age of discovery and invention.

Shakespeare’s Theatre
Shakespeare's Globe was rather different from modern theatres. The plays were performed in the open air and the audience got wet if it rained.

There was no scenery, very few props, and the only lighting was the daylight that came from the open roof above. So most plays were given in the afternoon.

Women in those days weren't allowed to act in public and all the parts (even Juliet!) were played by men.

Much of the audience stood to watch the performance and moved around, talking with each other and throwing fruit at the stage if they didn't like something.

When a new play was to be performed the flag was hoisted, the trumpet sounded and because there was only one bridge, the town folk got into their boats and rowed across the river to see a new play by William Shakespeare.

But if the weather suddenly changed for the worst, the flags were pulled down and the performance was cancelled.

Enthusiastic citizens would generally send their servants two or three hours before to keep seats for them. Few women, except those of the lowest classes, attended public theatres in Elizabeth's time. If a lady went to see a performance, she wore a mask.

In the summer of 1613, during the performance of Shakespeare's King Henry VIII The Globe caught fire and was burnt to the ground. The theatre was rebuilt in 1614, but a new blow fell upon it in 1616: William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright the world had ever known, died of a fever, ironically on the same date as his birthday, April 23.

The theatre was closed in 1642 by the Puritans and pulled down in 1644.
The GLOBE Today
Today, after almost 400 years, the Globe Theatre has been opened to the public again. The architects who have worked on the building believe the new theatre is as close to the original as it is possible to be.

Shows at the new Globe are staged in much the same way as they were then — with no scenery, spotlights or microphones. And, as in Shakespeare's time, the crowd is free to join in, calling out to the actors and getting involved in the story.

Women now play on the stage of the Globe, but on special occasions you can experience Shakespeare's plays the way his audience would have: an all-male performance in original clothing and without interval. If it rains, however, you'll be given a rain hat so that you wouldn't get wet to the skin.

The theatre's artistic director, Mark Rylance, says that his dream is "to reawaken a love of words — a theatre for the heart, not just the intellect". He expects the audiences to move around, talk, drink beer and throw fruit at the actors as they did in Shakespeare's time.

• William Shakespeare left the Grammar school where he had studied when he was 13 and never went to school again.

John Shakespeare, the great playwright's father, couldn't write.

• Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays, but only 18 of them were published in his lifetime and the first 8 didn't even carry his name.

• Many people have denied that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Candidates for the 'real' author have ranged from Francis Bacon to Queen Elizabeth I.

• Shakespeare usually wrote for a specific group of actors, and as they grew older he wrote plays with older characters to suit them.

• Some actors are still superstitious about Shakespeare's Macbeth. They believe that harm can come to the actors if they mention its name. So it is usually called The Scottish Play' or That play' or 'Mac — oh, I mustn't say it'.

Speak Out 2/2000

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