The Globe Theatre

Through the Ages – The Globe

The Globe theatre is said to be one of the most important theatres of the Elizabethan time.

Linked to Shakespeare and other famous playwrights and actors that graced its stage, the Globe is definitely still one of the most famous theatres. The building itself has had a very interesting life; it has been moved, burnt down, rebuilt, torn down and finally rebuilt once again.
Lets start from the very beginning…….

Originally known as “The Theatre”, the Globe Theatre was started by James Burbage in the outskirts of London. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (as the acting company was known) originally performed there

James Burbage had a twenty one year lease on the land, two months before the end of the lease James died, and left his theatre to his two sons, Richard and Cuthbert. As their lease on this building came to a close, Richard Burbage bought the Blackfriars theatre, located in Upper Frater Hall, however the neighbours’ complained and petitioned to keep the troupe out of Blackfriars.

It has been said that when the lease ended the landlord, Alleyn, decided that since The Theatre had not been removed before the expiration of the lease, it was now his. He refused to give the younger Burbages a new lease or the chance to take away their building.

The acting company decided to take matters into their own hands. Richard and Cuthbert, along with a number of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and Peter Streete, a master builder, snuck onto the grounds of The Theatre, stripped it bare and moved the materials across the Thames to Bankside, to a piece of land the Burbages had acquired and proceeded to construct the Globe.

When Alleyn learned of the demolition, he sued the Burbages and Streete for trespassing and theft of The Theatre, stating that the building was not theirs. After three years in the courts, the case faded away, and neither the Burbages nor Streete were ever required to re-compensate Alleyn.

The New Globe Theatre
In approximately 1599, the new theatre opened as the Globe; it was called this because of a sign at the entrance of the theatre of Atlas bearing the globe on his shoulders.

The Globe was an open-air octagonal amphitheater, three stories high, with a diameter of approximately 100 feet. The rectangular stage platform on which the plays were performed was nearly 43 feet wide and 28 feet deep. It could seat up to 3,000 audience members.

Most people think that Shakespeare was the sole owner of the Globe; he was only a part owner. The Globe was not only owned by the Burbages, but by a number of actors from the company such as John Heminges, William Kempe, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, and of course William Shakespeare. They were all equal partners and each invested their own money into running the theatre, commissioning plays, and paying actors, and in turn each shared in any profits the theatre might earn.

Shakespeare served as the resident playwright from about 1599 until 1613, it has been said, that this became the majority of his contribution to the Globe. While many of Shakespeare’s greatest plays were produced there, only about 15 of his 29 documented plays were written for the Globe. There were also many more plays that Shakespeare had not contributed to that were performed at the Globe.

There were a number of other theatres in the area, including the Rose, and the Swan. However, due to the way the Globe was run, none could match the quality of acting or the quality of plays. In 1602, the Globe’s closest neighbour, the Rose, had to close down, as with many theatres of the time, they simply couldn’t compete.

In 1603, King James I honored the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with a new title, the King’s Men.
In 1609, the group finally won the right to produce work at their theatre in Blackfriars, so they subsequently split time between there and the Globe.

The Globe Burns Down
Everything was running smoothly until 1613, the year the original Globe Theatre burned to the ground.

During the performance of a new play on the history of Henry VIII, a cannon was shot and somehow ignited the thatched roof of the gallery. Amazingly the 3000 audience members were able to get out safely, even though their only exit was through two narrow doors. It was reported that the only casualty was a man whose pants had caught on fire, however that was put out by a bystander who tipped his beer over the man’s pants.

Construction of the Second Globe
Work began almost immediately on the construction of a new theatre, still called the Globe. This time however, they put in a tiled roof instead of a thatched one. The drainage system was also improved. By 1614 the Globe theatre was open again.

William Shakespeare did not write any new plays for the new theatre, he instead retired to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where he died in 1616.

The Globe experienced little trouble after the fire and continued to be the most successful theatre in London for 30 years, surpassing even the new theatres and halls appearing within the city walls of London.

This was until 1642, when Oliver Cromwell came to power and closed down all theatres, and places where people might be entertained. The Globe was destroyed two years later, in 1644, and its foundations were buried.

Was this the end for the Globe?
Theatre was restored again in 1660, but by then the Globe was just a memory. Later on there were theatres that were named the Globe, not to replace the original, but maybe just to keep the name alive.

In 1833 the Rotunda theatre in Blackfriars Road was renamed the Globe (Blackfriars being the site of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s second theatre). In 1868 another theatre located on New Castle Street, Stand, took the name. This Globe was also constructed in a circular fashion. In 1902 it was dismantled to make way for the Strand reconstruction project. In 1906 the Hicks theatre was opened along with its sister theatre, the Queen’s theatre, on Shaftesbury Street in London. The Hicks theatre was then renamed the Globe in 1909. The theatre was remodeled in 1930 and continued to flourish for many years afterwards.

In 1949, a man named Sam Wanamaker came to London looking for the site of the original Globe and was disappointed he couldn’t find anything. In 1970 he founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust. In 1987, work began on rebuilding the Globe and the foundations were laid; the original site is about 200 yards from its reconstruction on Bankside. The foundations for the original Globe were actually discovered in 1989.

In 1993, the construction of the newest Globe Theatre itself began. Whilst there are no remaining plans of the original Globe, letters written by people who went to the playhouse, pictures, accounts combined with what was found on the site of the original Globe have helped contributed to the reconstruction.

Sadly, whilst Sam Wanamaker saw the beginning of the construction, in 1993 he passed away before the completion of the Globe in 1996.

However his dream remained and in May of 1997 Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the new Globe theatre with a production of Henry V.

So began the beginning of the new globe, a tribute to one of the most famous theatres of the Elizabethan times.

Join us soon for another Through the Ages