Situated on London’s Bankside, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre reconstructs the open-air playhouse where the playwright penned his greatest work.
Take a look at our 10 dramatic facts about Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, including...
- The remarkable story of the first Globe Theatre
- And how it burnt down
- The remarkable story of the new Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
- And how they've tried to protect it from burning down like the last one
- And much more
1. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Stands 400 Years and Only Yards Away From the Original
Completed in 1997, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is third Globe Theatre to have been built on the Southbank of the Thames. The original Globes were located just a street further back from the river. The original theatre was constructed in 1599, and was destroyed by fire in 1613. It was rebuilt a year later, but turned into tenement buildings in 1644 after puritanical fears about stage plays meant London theatres were forced to close in 1642.
2. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Was Rebuilt to be as Similar to the Original Globe as Possible
The Third Globe—what is known as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre—was designed to be as close to Globes One and Three as possible. A great deal of research went into the shape and layout of the original theatres, and the type of wood and building techniques used. It is made of the same wood—green oak—the original builders would have used, and the timbers are fixed together using wooden pegs. Of course, modern health and safety measures had to incorporated into the design, including the lining of the thatched roof with fire-retardant material.
3. Building the Original Globe Was a Drama in Itself
The original Globe was built by the theatre company Shakespeare was in, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later known as the King’s Men). It was erected using timbers recycled from The Theatre in Shoreditch, the first playhouse to put on Shakespeare’s work. Their old landlord, a Mr Allen, wouldn’t say ‘recycled’. He’d prefer the word ‘stolen’.
The story goes that Mr Allen refused to renew their lease for the land The Theatre stood on. So the company—including Shakespeare—armed with daggers and cudgels, snuck onto Allen’s land while he was away for Christmas. They took all the main timbers and stored them in a yard north of the Thames.
4. Shakespeare Was Part-Owner of the Theatre
The family of Richard Burbage, the company’s leading actor, had built The Theatre at Shoreditch, but didn’t have the money to lease a site for the new playhouse. So they asked for investment from some members of the company. William Shakespeare became a 12.5% shareholder in the Globe Theatre, paying £10 for his share. Now they just needed someone to write some hugely popular plays so they could get bums on the seats and returns on their investment…
5. It’s Always Been a Midsummer Destination
Because of its open-air aspect, The Globe has always been a fair-weather destination for watching a performance. Back in Shakespeare’s time, the company would move indoors to perform during winter. The same is true today, with winter performances taking play in the adjoining Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. But tours of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which offer a wealth of insights into the theatre as it was in The Bard’s time and as it operates today, are available year round. They are free with a London Pass.
6. Shakespeare Referenced The Globe in His Work
Henry V mentions “this wooden O,” in the play of the same name. Prospero speaks of “the great globe itself,” in a pivotal moment during The Tempest. It makes sense that he would. Firstly, as a tribute to a place that was so important to him. Also, there’s something particularly engaging and inclusive about someone on stage referring to the place where all the players and the crowd are assembled—“Good evening, Glastonbury!”
7. And Might Have Paraphrased Its Motto
It is said—although sources are pretty thin on the ground—that the motto of the Globe was Totus mundus agit histrionem, meaning ‘The whole world is a playhouse.’ This is remarkably similar to the famous phrase from As You Like It: “All the world is a stage.”
8. They Used to Flag Up the Genre
Different flags were used to signpost what kind of play was being performed that day. Flying high above the theatre, they were a good way of advertising the genre of the performance, or notifying prospective theatre-goers of a last-minute cancellation. This was true of many Elizabethan theatres. Black flags were raised for tragedy plays. Red ones announced history plays. Comedies were signalled by the flying of white flags. So that’s why they didn’t put on my one man show, The Tragic Life of a Very Funny Person Who Lived a Billion Years Ago. It wasn’t that it was a steaming pile of pretentious nonsense. It was a question of flags. Of course!
9. They Built It Along the Lines of the Coliseum in Rome (Just a Bit Smaller)
Many Elizabethan playhouses were. The tiered seating areas ring around the stage. In the past, they could hold up to 3000 spectators, but now spectators get a little more wiggle room for when legs start twitching around Act Four.
Those watching from ‘The Pit’, the standing area at the foot of the stage, were (not very respectfully) nicknamed ‘groundlings’. These were the cheaper than cheap seats. So cheap that they weren’t seats at all. But you could watch plays from the pit for just a penny. In Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre—the theatre that stands today—this is still the most affordable place from which to watch a performance. Nowadays, you can get tickets for as little as a fiver.
10. Henry VIII Burnt Down Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Woah! You clicked on it! A history-related bit of clickbait. AHAHAHA GOTCHA! Alright, sorry, this site doesn’t work like that. It wasn’t that Henry VIII burnt down Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. He did a lot of terrible things in his time. But he was dead near 20 years before Shakespeare was born.
On June 29th 1613, during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, some small cannon were fired, with no balls inside them, but using real gunpowder. The thatched roof caught alight. The whole thing burned down in around an hour. No one was hurt. But one man’s trousers caught fire. Luckily, someone close to him threw some beer over the flames.
So, those were our Shakespeare's Globe Theatre facts. But before you exit this blog (pursued by a bear), take a look at our guide to taking the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre tour here.
It's free with The London Pass.