On this date in 1613, the Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was destroyed by fire caused by stage effects during a production of Henry VIII. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site, and was opened in June 1614. It was closed by an Ordinance issued on 6th September 1642. Examination of old property records has identified the plot of land occupied by the Globe as extending from the west side of modern-day Southwark Bridge Road eastwards as far as Porter Street and from Park Street southwards as far as the back of Gatehouse Square. However, the precise location of the building remained unknown until a small part of the foundations, including one original pier base, was discovered in 1989 beneath the car park at the rear of Anchor Terrace on Park Street. The shape of the foundations is now replicated on the surface. Because the majority of the foundation lies beneath 67—70 Anchor Terrace, a listed building, no further excavations have been permitted.
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 shareholders, leaving them with more than the originally planned 10%). These initial proportions changed over time as new shareholders were added. Shakespeare’s share diminished from 1/8 to 1/14, or roughly 7%, over the course of his career.
The Globe was first built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, simply known as The Theatre, which had been built by Richard Burbage’s father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 21-year lease on the site where the theatre was built but owned the building outright. However, the landlord, Giles Allen, claimed that the building had become his with the expiry of the lease. On 28th December 1598, while Allen was celebrating Christmas at his country home, Peter Street, a carpenter, supported by the players and their friends, dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it to Street’s waterfront warehouse near Bridewell. With the onset of more favorable weather in the following spring, the material was ferried over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe on some marshy gardens to the south of Maiden Lane in Southwark. While only a hundred yards from the congested shore of the Thames, the piece of land was situated close by an area of farmland and open fields. It was poorly drained and, despite its distance from the river, was liable to flooding at times of particularly high tide. A “wharf” (that is, levy) of raised earth with timber revetments had to be created to keep the building above the flood level. The new theatre was larger than the building it replaced, so that even though they used the older timbers as part of the new structure, the Globe was not merely the old Theatre newly set up at Bankside. It was probably completed by the summer of 1599, possibly in time for the opening production of Henry V and its famous reference in the Prologue to the performance crammed within a “wooden O”.
On 29th June 1613 the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII when 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. It was rebuilt in the following year. Like all the other theaters in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was pulled down in 1644–45 to make room for tenements.
A modern reconstruction of the theatre, named Shakespeare’s Globe, opened in 1997, with a production of Henry V. It is an approximation of the original design, based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings, and is located approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre. The Globe’s actual dimensions are unknown, but its shape and size can be approximated given that scholars have been making conjectures for the past 200 years. The evidence suggests that the Globe was a three-storey, open-air amphitheater approximately 100 feet (30 m) 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 etched Long View of London from Bankside in 1647. However, in 1988–89, 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 yard, where, for a penny, people (the “groundlings”) could stand on a rush-strewn earthen floor to watch the performance. During the excavation of the Globe in 1989 a layer of nutshells was found, pressed into the dirt flooring. Vertically around the yard were three levels of seats, which were more expensive than standing room. A rectangular stage platform, known as an apron stage, thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. The stage measured approximately 43 feet (13.1 m) in width, 27 feet (8.2 m) in depth and was raised about 5 feet (1.5 m) off the ground. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from the “cellarage” area beneath the stage.The back wall of the stage had two or three doors on the main level, with a curtained inner stage in the center (although not all scholars agree about the existence of this supposed “inner below”), and a balcony above it. The doors entered into the “tiring house” (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The floors above may have been used as storage for costumes and props as well as management offices. 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. Rush matting covered the stage, although this may only have been used if the setting of the play demanded it.
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 stage was set in the south-east corner of the building, so as to be in shade during afternoon performances in summer.
If you are used to plays on modern stages or on film, a play staged in the reconstructed Globe can be an eye opener I expect, but I treat such things as fodder for tourists rather than serious investigation into the Elizabethan stage. I spent decades studying original documents from Elizabethan times in my research concerning stage dances, and have no trouble reconstructing aspects of Elizabethan drama without having to have an actual theater built and real actors performing on it. What I can’t do – no one can – is recreate the living culture of Elizabethan England. You can find numerous YouTube videos about the experience of doing Shakespeare in the reconstructed Globe (including an excruciatingly large number that talk about “most unique” and “very unique” experiences – which drives me nuts). I expect actors can learn something about Elizabethan theater practices by acting in plain daylight with the audience at their feet, but they can get a similar experience by performing at an outdoor rock concert. And . . . modern actors are playing to modern audiences. These audiences are all attentive and engaged by the reconstruction. Elizabethan audiences were nowhere as easy to please. When they disliked an actor they threw things at him as well as booing and jeering. Elizabethan audiences shouted comments at the actors, and all the actors were male. The women’s parts were played (mostly) skillfully by boys and young men. They were so good, in fact, that one Elizabethan courtier who saw women playing women part’s in Italy wrote back home saying that they were surprisingly good – almost as good as English boys !!! Elizabethan audiences did not have all the movie special effects that we are bombarded with, and sated by. The effect that burned the Globe down would have been a real marvel to them, and, as Henry V’s prologue tells us, they had to use their imaginations so much more. In the video above, I like the playful cutting between the Elizabethan stage and modern movie effects. It makes my point.
The Globe has, I am glad to say, experimented with Elizabethan pronunciation of the lines, and this video is instructive:
Just as we cannot recreate the world of Elizabethan theater, we cannot really duplicate Elizabethan cooking because we do not have their skills, their tastes, their kitchens, nor their ingredients. We do have their recipes, however, and we can make a stab at them. I have talked about the pitfalls of trying to recreate historic dishes from contemporary recipes many times before. This site gives all the recipes from Thomas Dawson’s Good huswifes jewell (1587). The printed title is, The good husvvifes ievvell VVherein is to be found most excellent and rare deuises for conceits in cookerie, found out by the practise of Thomas Dawson. Whereunto is adioyned sundry approued reseits for many soueraine oyles, and the way to distill many precious waters, with diuers approued medicines for many diseases. Also certaine approued points of husbandry, very necessarie for all husbandmen to know. The recipes are given in slightly modernized spelling, so they are a bit easier to read than the original, but the instructions are skimpy. Here, for example, is a bread recipe:
To make fine bread.
TAke halfe a pound of fine suger well beaten, and as much Flower, and put thereto foure Egges whites, and being very wel beaten, you must mingle them with Anniseedes bruised, and being all beaten together, put into your mould melting the sawce ouer first with a litle butter, and set it in the Ouen, & turne it twice or thrice in the baking.
This looks more like an angel cake than bread, but worth a try. This recipe for veal breast is also a little cryptic:
To make a pudding in a breast of Veale.
TAke Peresely, Time, washe them, pricke them, and choppe them small, then take viii. yolkes of egges grated bread and halfe a pint of creame beeing verie swéete, then season it with Pepper, Cloues, and Mace, Saffron, and Sugar smal Raisons and Salt, put it in and Roste it and serue it.
I am assuming that you make up this mixture, wrap a breast of veal around it, and roast it. In other words, it is a kind of stuffing.