The Globe Theatre: A Step Back in Time

Posted on January 27th, 2011 by

If the world is a stage and we are all merely players, then I played the role of a tourist today – a tourist on a mission.  After countless hours of reading Shakespeare, watching Shakespeare, and studying Shakespeare, I wanted none other than to be transported back in time and experience the works of Shakespeare the way the Bard himself wanted them experienced.  Today, after stepping into the Globe, located mere meters from its original site in London, I was given that opportunity, well at least in regard to the theatre itself. 

To begin my step back in time, which was guided by Margaret, my Scottish tour guide, I was taken outside.  Here, with the sun setting over the Thames and a brisk January wind rustling the leaves of nearby trees, the Globe stood proudly apart from its surroundings.  Drastically differing from the Tate’s modernity and the sheen of the Millennium Bridge, the Globe spoke to the vices it once held for Londoners.  It was apparent, even from first impression, that the architect’s goal of the current Globe theatre was to instill a sense of accuracy in regard to the theatre in which Shakespeare himself saw his plays come alive.

Once inside the Globe, the impressive stage commanded all attention.  Its two wooden columns – erected from two tree trunks and constructed to look and shine like marble – gave structure to the heavenly canopy above.  This canopy, decorated with etchings of gold and a painting of the night’s sky, figuratively depicts the heavens.  Contrasting this symbol is what can be considered the depths of hell – the open area below the stage.  With trap doors leading to both unworldly places, Shakespeare could then have evil rise from the depths of hell and good descend from heaven.

In addition to the accuracy in the reconstruction of the stage, the theatre itself gives rise to what it would have been like watching a play during the Globe’s original time of success.  As an open-air theatre, the theatre relies on natural light with no light focused directly on the actors on stage.  In this sense, the audience members have the same chance of being seen as the actors do.  In fact, several Londoners came to the original Globe to be seen – especially those choosing to sit directly to the right or left of the stage.  Also, as London can be cloudy, as it was today, this light can at times be dim; however, nothing could possibly compare to the dim light given when it is raining (or so I would imagine).  It was noted that both then and now in rain or shine the show would go on.

While in Shakespeare’s day more than 3,000 people could be active audience members at a time – with 2,000 sitting and 1,000 acting as groundlings or those standing, today the theatre only allows for 700 groundlings and 900 sitting.  This, however, is not due to a smaller theatre, but simply that of stricter capacity regulations.  Coinciding the original theatre’s structure, today’s Globe is currently the only building in London with a thatched roof.  Along with a thatched roof, today’s Globe also boasts an up-to-date sprinkler system as London and the Globe do have a history of destructive fires.  Although this system was put in place as a city regulation, I believe, regardless of authenticity, the architect would have added it anyways just to be on the safe side.

Considering these details which give light to what the Globe was actually like, it is important to note that no one knows for certain what the Globe actually looked like.  Its unique and identifiable characteristics were developed through countless hours of research and collaboration.  The stage itself is based on a drawing of the Swan’s stage and documented information about the Fortune’s – both known theatres competing with the Globe. Nevertheless, the Globe, as we understand it today, had become an iconic figure of Shakespeare and his time – one which the architect recaptured through his reconstruction of the theatre standing today.

As the tour wrapped up and I began my epilogue as a Shakespearian tourist by snapping my last photo, I slowly meandered among the oak pillars of the sitting area.  In the serene quiet, I could almost hear the whispers of Romeo’s love for Juliet and the cries of Lady Macbeth’s guilt.  Even the laughter and hissing from past audience members seemed to creak from the walls.  (Or perhaps that was an audio recording – one can never tell these days!) Regardless, when you walk into the Globe it is as though greatness really is thrust upon you.


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