The Globe Theatre was first built in 1549 on the southern bank of the River Thames in the Southwark section of London. The Globe was built as a large, round, open air theatre. There was a roof around the circumference which covered the seating area. Because of its shape and the materials from which it was constructed the theatre has been call a wooden “O.”
The architectural style of the Globe was similar the coliseum in Rome but on a smaller scale. The globe had three stories of seating and was able to hold up to 3,000 patrons in its 100 foot diameter. The base of the stage was called the pit, which held the groundlings. These people just paid a penny for a performance for which they stood to watch. The groundling were also called “stinkards” as bathing was infrequent and no one washed their woolens.
There were no actresses performing at the Globe. Female roles were played by young boys. The theatre was considered too risqué for ladies. As a matter of fact, the reason the theatre was located on the south side and across the river from London was to put a river between the theatre and the decent folks who lived on the other side.
In Shakespeare’s time no one drank water as it was likely to be contaminated by sewage. Instead, everyone, including children, drank beer.
Due to outbreaks of the plague, the Globe was forced to close in 1603 and 1608 and in 1613 the Globe Theatre burnt down. A cannon fired for a special effect during a performance of Henry V set fire to the thatched roof. The fire spread so quickly the theatre burnt to the ground in two hours. No one was hurt except for one man whose pants caught on fire and was doused with a bottle of beer to extinguish the fire. This may have been the earliest case of, “Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!” on record. The Globe was rebuilt the next year in 1614.
In 1640 the Puritans closed the Globe Theatre with an Order of Suppression against stage plays. In 1614, the theatre was torn down and converted to tenement housing. Fast forward to 1997.
In 1997 a third version of the Globe Theatre was built close to the original site in Southwark. It was called, “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.” The idea to reconstruct Shakespeare’s Globe theatre came from American actor, director, and producer, Sam Wanamaker who initiated the project to rebuild. He funded the Shakespeare’s Globe Trust. He spent 23 years raising funds and researching the original appearance of the Globe. The new theatre was built using 1000 oak trees from English forests and 6000 bundles of reeds from Norfolk for the thatched roof. Sam died in 1993 just three and a half years before the theatre was completed in 1997. It truly is a magnificent structure and a priceless time portal into the past where we can watch and see for ourselves, how Shakespeare invented the human.
Information for this article was gleaned from the Shakespeare’s Globe website. All pictures are original and taken by me at the site.