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  • Andre Lamartin

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

During a trip to London in 1949, the American actor Sam Wanamaker came to a sobering realization: despite Shakespeare’s incalculable contribution to English literature and language, no special monuments had been erected in honor of the legendary venue where his plays were enacted: the Globe Theater. In fact, the only indication that the Globe Theater had ever existed was given by a lugubrious bronze plaque hung on a wall of a tavern.

And so Wanamaker set out to correct this grave injustice by rebuilding the Globe Theater on the southern bank of the Thames, near the Tate Modern Gallery, following all the known specifications of the original building. Half a century later, at the cost of more than ten million pounds, the Globe Theater was rebuilt and finally opened to the public.

Visitors are now welcome to watch Shakespeare’s plays year around, visit a small museum devoted to his work and take a guided tour through the theater. What follows is a small collection of pictures I took during my visit this weekend with added captions and commentary. This coming April 23rd, 2014, the world will celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. This is my way of paying the great bard my respects. Thank you for all the great plays and more importantly, for sonnet XVIII!

1.This is the view of the Globe Theater from the most expensive seats in the house on the second floor.

2.This is an external view of the Globe Theater.

3.This is the view of the second and third floors as seen from the pit. The original theater encouraged the open interaction between the audience and the actors, so it was extremely important that everyone could be seen and heard.

4.This is a portrait of Shakespeare from the early 17th century. It is interesting to note that Shakespeare could not attend university because he married at eighteen. During his time, one had to be a single male in order to attend college, this being the reason why he was literally forced to start working. He moved to London for the very same reason that so many still do: in search of better opportunities. During his lifetime, the city of London doubled in size and became the biggest city in the world. There was enormous demand for entertainment.

5. This is the view from the Millennium Bridge, the one that visitors who stop at Blackfriars underground station must cross in order to reach the Globe. On the background, the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

6.Subway advertisement of the upcoming ultraviolent play Titus Andronicus. This play opens the spring season of the Globe in late April together with Hamlet. Certainly not for the squeamish.

7.Advertisements of upcoming plays seen on the entryway to the Globe.

8.Advertisements of upcoming plays seen on the entryway to the Globe.

9.View of the Globe seen from the opposite bank of the Thames.

10.Entryway to the museum. For £13.5, the visitor receives an audio guide, which he can use at the museum. Each station has a code and once you input this number into the audio guide you can listen to the commentary. Once you have visited all the stations in the museum, you can proceed to the guided tour.

11.Until the Globe was rebuilt, this commemorative bronze plaque was the only historical indication of its existence. Pitiful.

12.This is Sam Wanamaker. I cannot wrap my mind around the notion that it took an American to get this project off the ground. How can it be that for almost four centuries no Briton had the presence of mind to launch this historically significant initiative? Prince Albert gets the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert memorial statue in Hyde Park, but the Globe only gets a bronze plaque? For a nation that worships its history, this is truly appalling.

13.This is a timeline of Shakespeare’s life, outlining the dates of every major creative achievement and relevant historical events. What really surprises me is the fact that most geniuses have an “annus mirabilis”, a short period of time, usually a year, when great discoveries are made. Einstein had his 1905, but Shakespeare had almost three decades! This is what surprises me most: his consistency. Since he moved to London, he was incredibly consistent throughout his entire career, leading many to suspect that he could not possibly have written his entire body of work.

14.This is the first known portrait of Shakespeare accompanied by pages of the original Folios from 1623, 1632, 1663 and 1685. Despite Shakespeare’s monumental significance to world literature, he left almost no personal documents or original literary manuscripts in his own writing. In fact, it was only seven years after his death that John Heminges and Henry Condell, two actors who were Shakespeare’s friends, printed the First Folio, a collection of 36 of his plays. In other words, all that we currently know of the great bard’s work was published post mortem. This is another fact that I can hardly believe.

15.This is Shakespeare’s will, the only known source of his signature, left on each of its three pages. No other personal documents, letters or original copies of his poetry or drama have ever been discovered, leading some to question their authorship.

16.These are the props used in plays such as Richard III, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, the Merchant of Venice, Antony and Cleopatra, etc. All props were made with original Elizabethan materials. Great research goes into the stagecraft employed in the theater. They are always trying to replicate the original conditions to the best of their ability.

17.This is a booth in the museum where you can press a button and have your favorite Shakespearean actor read a passage from Hamlet. My favorites were Peter O’Toole and Kenneth Branagh. In another booth, you can press a button and have famous sonnets recited to you. My favorite was, of course, sonnet XVIII.

18.This guide gave us the tour of the theater. Very funny and knowledgeable.

19.This is the view of the main stage as seen from the pit. The pit is where the poorest citizens came to watch plays. They had to stand for almost three hours, quite frequently in the pouring rain because the Globe relied solely on natural sunlight. Today they are able to fit about 700 people inside the pit and each ticket costs 5 pounds. The rain is still an occasional problem and umbrellas are not allowed. This is definitely not the venue where you want to buy the cheap seats. Today, the Globe has a total capacity of 1700 people, but the original theater was able to fit more than 3000 people because there were no fire safety regulations back then.

20.Same as the previous picture.

21.View from the seats on the first floor. If you absolutely want to save money, but remain protected from the rain, this is where you want to sit.

22.View of the roof. Please note that the Globe still relies on natural sunlight. This creates obvious problems during the winter, the reason why a second indoor theater was built. During Shakespeare’s time, they would move to Blackfriars during the winter to stage plays indoors.

23.At the end of the tour there is the obligatory shop where you can buy t-shirts and assorted Shakespeare memorabilia. This is where my tour ended. All hail the great bard.

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