The Globe Theatre

Built in 1599, the original Globe Theatre

was constructed by, and for William

Shakespeare’s acting company, then

known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The

original building was destroyed by fire on

une 29, 1613 and a replacement was built

and opened in June 1614. That second

theater building was closed in 1642. A

modern replica of the Globe, called

“Shakespeare’s Globe,” opened in 1997 near the site of the original theaters and is used today for productions of Shakespeare’s plays. The location of the original site was discovered when one of the pier base footings was uncovered beneath a public parking garage in 1989.

In Elizabethan times, most theater buildings were owned by the acting company which performed there. The Globe was owned by two of the most renowned actors of the day, Richard Burbage and his brother, Cuthbert, who each owned 25 percent, and the remaining 50 percent was owned equally by Shakespeare, John Hemmings, Augutine Phillips, and Thomas Pope. Over time, Shakespeare’s ownership diminished from one-eighth to about one-fourteenth (7 percent).

The 1599 Globe was constructed using lumber from The Theatre, a structure owned by the Burbage’s father, James Burbage. When the original lease on the property occupied by The Theatre expired, it landlord, Giles Allen, claimed he automatically took title to the building as well. It is reported that, on December 28, 1598, while Giles was away at his country estate, the Burbages, their fellow players, and friends, disassembled the building, board by board and secretly transported it to a waterfront warehouse. The timber was reused to build the Globe which opened in the summer of 1599, perhaps for its first production, Henry V, although the only remaining records list the earliest production as Ben Jonson’s  Every Man Out of His Humour which was shown later in the year.

Roughly 14 years after it was built, the Globe Theatre burned to ground when a theatrical cannon misfired during a performance of Henry VIII and the beams and thatched roof on fire. Reports indicate that the only injury was a man whose pants caught on fire which were soon doused with a bottle of ale.The theater was closed in 1642 by the Puritan establishment as being inappropriate and was dismantled in 1644, replaced by tenement housing.

Scholars researching the Globe believe it was a three-story building, approximately 100 feet in diameter and capable of seating about 3,000 audience members. For many years, the Globe was thought to be round, but the discovery of a foundation footing in 1988 suggests it may instead have been a 20-sided polygon.

Three levels of stadium-style seating surrounded the stage, which was rectangular, measuring about 43 feet wide, 27 feet long, and standing about 5 feet above ground level. The area immediately around the stage was known as the “pit,” where, for a penny, spectators known as groundlings, could stand and watch the performance. The stage also included a trap door to allow performers to enter from the area beneath it, known as the cellarage. Two or three doors opened at the back of the main level of the stage with perhaps a curtained inner stage, and a balcony stage level above. The doors led backstage to the “tiring house,” where actors donned their costume attire and waited for their entrance onstage. Although it’s not known for certain, the second and third story areas backstage may have been used as storage for props and costumes or administrative offices. The musicians played from the balcony which also was used whenever a play required it, such as in Romeo and Juliet. The columns to the side of the stage helped support the roof, and the ceiling beneath the roof was painted to resemble the sky and known as “the heavens.” Another trap door in the ceiling, let actors descend onto the stage using ropes and harnesses.

The King’s Men performed at Blackfriars during the seven months of winter and at the Globe during the summer months. Records showed that the shareholders could earn up to £13 at each performance, not including the actors’ wages.

The outbreak of the English Civil War brought the close of Blackfriars and the building was demolished in August 1655. Fundraising is underway to reconstruct the Blackfriars on the site of Shakespeare’s Globe as of January 2011.


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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (renovated) in London, England.