Imagine standing in an octagonal shaped structure, enclosing a roofless inner pit. You are standing on a shell-carpeted floor and in front of you is a projected stage; a theater. Behind you are wooden seats and oak balusters. Have any idea of where you are? You are standing in the pit of Shakespeares famous Globe Theater. An English actor, Richard Burbage, constructed the Globe Theater in 1599. Unfortunately, it was burned down fourteen years later. In 1613 a cannon, discharged during a performance of Henry VIII, set fire to the thatched roof and destroyed the building (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000).
The theater was rebuilt in 1614 but the Puritans destroyed it 30 years later, in 1644. The idea to honor Shakespeare and his plays by reconstructing the Globe was by an American actor and director, Sam Wanamaker. This had been a 27-year epic adventure of the dreams of Wanamaker (Smithsonian Magazine, November 1997). To his content of his trials and tribulations, he wheedled and cajoled the British into rebuilding the Bards theater (Smithsonian Magazine, November 1997). He began formal fundraising efforts in 1970. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust to start the reconstruction that was nearly 400 years late.
It would be built from scratch on its original site in Southwark, London, on the South Bank of the Thames River (Smithsonian Magazine, November 1997). Wanamaker died in 1993, and Globe architect Theo Crosby passed away the following year, before the project could be finished. This ambitious undertaking took more than 25 years of effort to recreate an important part of Shakespeares life and work (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000). It took a whopping $45 million, and now finished, it is a faithful reproduction of its predecessor.
From the thatched roof and oak balusters to the wooden seats and shell-carpeted pit, every effort was made to use Elizabethan materials and methods in constructing the theater. The 20-sided wooden theater opened in 1996. A 1500 member audience can feel free to interact with the actors, just as they did in the 16th century. The first production at the newly reconstructed Globe was Shakespeares The Two Gentlemen of Verona, on August 21, 1996 (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000). As in the original Globe, the stage of the new Globe is made of bare boards.
It is five feet high, which makes it quite difficult to climb onto or jump from, but it insures that most of the standing audience can see the action. The stage wall, or Frons Scenae, is decorated in marble and stone. It is illustrated with real and fake statues of god and planetary. Behind the wall, is the Tiring House. This is the part of the playhouse where Elizabethan actors would get dressed. Most productions at the new Globe add hangings between the doors and curtains in the balcony, or Lords Room, both of which were likely features in the original Globe.
The balcony runs across the whole of the Frons Scenae, and is divided into three sections. The musicians usually use the central section, while audience members sit in the side sections. In the Renaissance, the aristocracies favored these seats because they could be seen and heard as well as see the actors from very close. That is why they were called the Lords Rooms (The University of Reading 2000). The frieze is above the Globe stage. It presents six planetary deities that govern the destinies of the human beings whose lives are represented on the stage below, (according to astrological beliefs).
Pauline Knox-Crichton and Peter Crombie painted them, from an Elizabethan original by Virgil Solis (The University of Reading 2000). Some examples of the gods and planets are: Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Luna, and Sol. Each of the gods has a meaning, and each planet is associated with a Zodiac sign. The gods all function in pairs, echoing the duality of the pillars that hold up the Heavens. The temporary Heavens presented a lunar decoration. They were painted with modern emulsions as opposed to the permanent building.
Indigo was the chosen color for the Heavens. The actors on the stage can be seen visibly enacting destinies influenced by the movements of the stars and planets (The University of Reading 2000). The Heavens will also have a trap from which gods and goddesses may descend. And in the roof, there will be an equivalent of the cannon whose shot set fire to the first Globe in 1613. The yard is perhaps the most original part of the Globe. Up to 700 people can stand in it, huddling around the stage, some watching the action from closer than any theater can offer.
They are free to move around. Food and drink can be bought in the yard, and consumed during the performance. The groundlings are the audience members who make performances at the Globe so memorable. They mediate between stage and galleries, they are part of the action, and they have an immediate response to jokes (The University of Reading 2000). The original Globe could house up to 3000 playgoers, whereas the new Globe has a limit of 1700, of which 1000 are seated in the galleries (The University of Reading 2000).
In the new Globe, prices reflect the quality of the sightlines and numbers are limited due to safety regulations- and to the larger size of 20th century people. You can also rent a cushion for the duration of the performance, as was the case in the original Globe. This spectacular piece of art is not the exact original Globe, but every effort was made to ensure its reproduction was authenticated. They used Elizabethan materials and methods to construct the theater. The Globe Theater is not a tombstone for Shakespeare, for he never died- his plays live on and on. It is more of a salute to one of the greatest playwrights in history.