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The original Globe theatre was first opened in 1599, when Shakespeare was 35 years old.  The original Globe theatre burned down as a result of a cannon being fired during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613.  A second Globe was built on the same site, this time in brick with a tiled roof; that theatre was closed down in 1642.  Shakespeare never got the chance to write new plays to be performed in the new Globe, since he died in 1616.  Even after his death many of his existing works were performed there.  Hundreds of years later, only 200 yards from its original site, the new Globe theatre was built and reopened in 1997.  

This replica was built in 1912 by Edward Lutgers for the "Shakespeare's England" exhibition.   


During the construction of the “new” Globe Theatre before opening in 1997.    

The original Globe was not anything like where you would see one of Shakespeare’s plays today.  The Globe theatre was very primitive, as were a lot of buildings from this time period.  Obviously there were no bathrooms so many patrons relieved themselves in the fields or bushes surrounding the theatre.  The Globe was a small, cramped, and smelly place.  There were usually about 3000 people crammed inside.  There were several different sections within this theatre according to your wealth and lifestyle.  The audience members ranged from the poor common folk to the upper class lords and ladies. Since the Globe was an open-air theatre it could only be used during the summer months.  During the cold winter months Shakespeare and his company performed at an indoor theatre just north of the Thames River.  Many times they opened the play at the indoor theatre and later moved it to the Globe.  During the different productions at the Globe, musicians were brought in to enhance the impression the audience gets from the play.  Individual musicians and orchestrated music is still used today.     


Layout of today’s Globe theatre in London, England.

Above is a diagram of how the interior of the Globe looks.     

           There are many things that were done very differently back then.  If you were watching a play during Shakespeare’s time it was very unique.  During this time, there were ways in which they used to let the public know what was going on.  Flags were hung prior to the play to let the people what type of play was going to take place later on.  White flags were raised if the play was light in nature and black flags were raised if it was serious in nature.  The trap door was used for disappearing or appearing acts.  It was also used to represent Hell.  The hut was above the main and upper stages and was used for storage and was also where the stagehands made the sound effects from.  Stagehands simulated thunder by striking a sheet of metal or pounding a drum. There was also a canopy that was above the stage, usually painted like the sky with golden stars, was lowered when gods and heavenly messengers were on the stage.  Tiring rooms were the actor's quarters and dressing rooms.  The pit or yard is where groundlings stood, the poor common folk.  The upper stage section was used for balcony scenes, such as in Romeo and Juliet.  Unlike today’s shows, anyone who attended a Shakespeare play in the Elizabethan era really had to use their imagination.  No backdrops or props, no hidden microphones in an awful acoustical design.  Actors would have to overstress their actions and yell their lines to try and make it easier for all to hear.  There was also no ambiance or spot lighting, so plays usually took place in the early afternoon, typically starting around 1 p.m. or so and ending up about 5 p.m.  Sometimes they would set off fireworks or fire cannons during battle scenes and use lit torches during night scenes.  

The Globe as it is today; main stage, balconies and exterior view.

Related Links:
Clemson University Virtual Globe Theatre Tour!
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Bankside, Southwark, London
Globe Timeline
Test your Shakespeare and Globe theatre knowledge

Kacey Beazlie