Essential Architecture-  London

Globe Theater






1599 to 1614




timber frame octagonal


  The modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, in London.
The Globe Theatre normally refers to one of three theatres in London associated with William Shakespeare.

The original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by the playing company to which Shakespeare belonged, and destroyed by fire in 1613. 
The rebuilt Globe Theatre built in 1614, closed in 1642, and demolished in 1644. 
A modern reconstruction of the original Globe, named 'Shakespeare's Globe Theatre', opened in 1997. 

The original Globes
The original Globe was an Elizabethan theatre built in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, in an area now known as Bankside. It was one of several major theatres in the area, the others being the Swan, the Rose and The Hope. The Globe was owned by a consortium of actors, who were shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later becoming the King's Men), including Shakespeare, and Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert, and was the principal playhouse of the company. Most of Shakespeare's post-1599 plays were originally staged at the Globe, including Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and Hamlet.

The Globe was built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, the Theatre, that had been built by Richard Burbage's father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 20-year lease of site on which the Theatre was built. When the lease ran out, they dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe.

The first Globe burned to the ground in 1613, by flaming material expelled from a cannon used for special effects during a performance of Henry VIII that ignited the thatched roof of the gallery.[1] It was rebuilt immediately, this time with a tiled roof, and reopened in July 1614.

Like all the other theatres in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was destroyed in 1644 to make room for tenements. Its exact location remained unknown until remnants of its foundations were discovered in 1989 beneath Anchor Terrace on Southwark Bridge Road. There may be further remains beneath Anchor Terrace, but the 18th century terrace is listed and may not be disturbed by archaeologists.

Layout of the Globe
The Globe's precise shape and size have been pieced together by scholarly inquiry over the last two centuries. The evidence suggests that it was a three-story, 100-foot wide, open-air amphitheater that could house around 3,000 spectators. In one of Shakespeare's plays (the history Henry V), it is referred to as "this wooden O", and it is shown as a round building on a contemporary engraving of London. On this basis, some assume the building was circular, while others favor an octagonal shape. Archaeological evidence suggests the playhouse had twenty sides.

At the base of the stage, there was an area called the 'yard' where people (the "groundlings") would stand to watch the performance. Around the yard were three levels of seating, which were more expensive than standing: the first two were called the Twopenny Rooms and the top level was called the Penny Gallery.

The stage of the modern Globe Theatre.
A rectangular stage platform thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. This stage measured roughly 40 feet wide and 30 feet deep. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from beneath the stage; the area beneath the stage was known as the 'cellarage'. There was a second trap door in the back of the stage that was used for the same purpose. Often the area beneath the stage is also called 'hell', since supernatural beings (such as the ghost in Hamlet) enter and exit the stage from this area.

Large columns either side of the stage supported a roof over the rear portion of the stage. This ceiling was called the 'heavens', and was probably painted with images of the sky. A trap door in the heavens enabled performers to 'fly' or descend using some form of rope and harness.

The back wall of the stage consisted of three doors on the first floor and a balcony on the second. The doors entered into the 'tiring house' (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The balcony housed the musicians and could also be used for scenes requiring an upper space, such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. In addition, it could be used as the 'Lord's Room', where higher-paying audience members could pay to be seated - more to be seen than to see the play, since they would have been behind the performers.

The modern Globe

At the instigation of Sam Wanamaker, a new Globe theatre was built according to an Elizabethan plan. It opened in 1997 under the name 'Shakespeare's Globe Theatre' and now stages plays every summer (May to October). Mark Rylance was appointed as the first artistic director of the modern Globe in 1995. After 10 years, Dominic Dromgoole took over in 2006.

The new theatre is 200 yards from the original site, and was the first thatched roof building permitted in London since the Great Fire of London of 1666.

As in the original, both the stage and the audience are outdoors. Plays are put on during the summer, and in the winter the theatre is used for educational purposes, and tours are available.

Although the reconstruction is carefully researched, the original plan was modified by the addition of sprinklers on the roof, to protect against fire, and the theatre is partly joined onto a modern lobby and visitors centre. In addition, only 1,500 people may be housed during a show, unlike the 3,000 of Shakespeare's time (Elizabethans were less concerned about their personal space than modern theatregoers).