Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is in fact long gone – closed by Puritans in 1642 and taken down 2 years later. Fortunately for fans of the bard, there’s a faithful reproduction housed only a few hundred meters from the original site.
The consuming passion of too-little known American actor Sam Wanamaker, the Globe offers performances of Shakespeare’s plays during the summer along with tours of the facility. Wanamaker died shortly after construction began.
Though no drawings of the interior of the original are known to exist, every care has been taken to faithfully recreate the theatre. Scholarly studies from the intervening 400 years have allowed designers to make the reconstruction close to the original. A sketch made in 1596 of the presumed-similar Swan Theatre is just one example.
Some modern concessions to safety, such as the installation of overhead sprinklers, have been made. But the visitor will find both the exterior and the interior very much what he or she would expect from the time Elizabethan actors trod the boards. The round, white background with dark trim, the thatched roof (the first allowed in London since the Great Fire of 1666), and hundreds of details make seeing the site a journey back in time.
Though destroyed in 1644, the exact location was rediscovered in 1989 when remnants of the original foundations were discovered beneath Anchor Terrace on Southwark Bridge Road. Legal and other restrictions prevented rebuilding on the original site. But the new site is close enough by and the recreation accurate enough to allow the original to be easily imagined.
That imagination can be aided by taking one of the offered tours of the building. Knowledgeable guides direct groups around the nearly circular building showing the high balconies and the low wooden benches near the front.
At favorable times, when no rehearsals are being held, tours also take in parts of the 12m(40ft) wide by 9m(30ft) deep stage. Guides explain how special effects of the time were created, including the use of the trap door and the large, open area under the stage. With luck, you’ll catch a sword-fighting exhibition.
It continues into exhibition rooms showing artifacts and facsimiles of the period. A table with writing implements of the type Shakespeare used is evident along with several other ‘scene-setting’ chairs and decorative items.
There’s also a gift store adjoining the modern lobby where recordings, photos, and cards, and (of course) the plays can be purchased.
Visitors can purchase tickets to the professionally staged plays and enjoy being a groundling or an aristocrat. ‘Groundlings’ were theatergoers who sat or stood near the front. In contrast to today, the area provided cheaper admission. Well-to-do merchants and royalty, or simply the well connected, sat further back and higher.
On these wooden benches, under the open sky visitors can turn around before the play begins (there is no curtain to raise) and see the 1,500 souls assembled to watch the performance. (The original theatre held 3,000.)
Then, at the first trumpet, turn your attention to the stage and be held rapt by a dramatic and faithful rendering of one of literature’s greatest plays.
The Globe is easy to reach via the London Underground, i.e. ‘the tube’ or subway. Exit at St Paul’s Cathedral station. The theatre is the opposite.