It was 400 years ago this summer, on June 29, 1613, that William Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre at the side of the River Thames was destroyed by fire. Yet today, the Globe is back, introducing brand-new audiences to some of the Bard’s greatest works. Here’s the inspiring tale of a theatrical resurrection in London.
The Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s own theater company, The Chamberlain’s. It is believed that the first production here was the tragedy Julius Caesar, and over the next 14 years, it premiered some of the Bard’s greatest productions. In 1613, it was one such play — Henry VIII — that would prove to be the theater’s downfall, as during a production, the wadding from a stage cannon caught fire and ignited the thatched roof of the venue, burning it all to the ground.
The popularity of the theater led to it being rebuilt only a year later, but Shakespeare would never pen another play for stage here. And soon after this rebuilding, the theater was closed — along with all others in the city — under the parliamentary rule of Puritan Oliver Cromwell. It would mark the beginning of more than 350 years of a London without the existence of the Globe.
A New Beginning
Ever since it closed, there was talk of re-creating the Globe — sadly, to little effect. It was only in 1970 — when American actor, director and producer Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust — that plans finally started moving forward. Solely dedicated to reopening the theater, the organization spent the next 23 years raising funds for the project, securing a suitable site (750 feet from the original location) and planning the reconstruction. By the 1990s, work was under way, and the Globe’s new incarnation opened in 1997 — four years after Wanamaker’s death — with a public performance of Henry V.
The Globe Today
Shakespeare’s Globe, as it is known now, is a beautiful and authentic replica of the original Tudor theater. Made entirely of English oak, with mortise and tenon joints, it is precisely the style of a 16th-century timber-framed building, and has the original layout, too. The covered seating area comprises solid oak benches (though cushions can be rented) and the pit directly surrounding the stage is open-air standing space for those willing to brave the elements. It also boasts the only thatched roof in London since the Great Fire of 1666. Overall, the building is an incredible architectural landmark that makes for a unique theatrical experience.
The theater offers matinee and evening performances almost every day of the week, with occasional exceptions — see the upcoming production schedule for more information. Shows last an average of two-and-a-half to three hours, including intermission.
Summertime visitors to Shakespeare’s Globe are spoiled for choice. To start, the theater is running The Tempest (through August 18) — one of the best London theater productions this year — as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream (until October 12) and Macbeth (until October 13). Later this summer, the curtains will rise for Gabriel (starting July 13) and Indian Tempest (starting July 29). Then in the fall, a much-anticipated production of King Lear (starting September 23), performed entirely in Belarusian, will take the stage.
Whatever you choose to see, you’ll be sure to enjoy a superb production, from the acting to the staging. But more than that, your visit will be in a venue closer to the true spirit of Shakespeare than any other on earth.
Photo Courtesy of iStock-davidf