The Globe Theater was an Elizabethan era playhouse part-owned by the great playwright William Shakespeare. Built from the remains of an existing theater in Shoreditch, London, made by English actor and theater owner Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert, the Globe was constructed over just a few months in 1599.
The playhouse became the home of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a troupe of which Shakespeare and the Burbages were members. The group went on to perform many of the Bard’s most famous plays there. Reportedly, the first performance was Julius Caesar, with subsequent plays such as Richard II, Romeo And Juliet and A Winter’s Tale also shown there.
The Globe proved a great success, with its 3,000 capacity frequently tested to the limit, both in the cheap standing-only pit area as well as in the more prestigious tiered seating located around the inner walls.
Unfortunately, however, on 29 June 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII, a theatrical cannon misfired and ignited the wooden beam and thatch roof, leading to the entire building burning down. Luckily, the success of the Globe’s owners and its performances resulted in the theater being rebuilt again in 1614, with the new playhouse continuing to host many acting troupes well after Shakespeare’s death in 1616. In fact, it was not until 1642 that the theater was closed down – a casualty of the English Civil War.
Theater fans today can visit the Globe, but it’s not the Globe of Shakespeare’s day but instead a modern reconstruction.
It was nevertheless made to be historically accurate, consulting the plans, construction methods and materials of the 1599 original, albeit with modern safety standards in mind. Shakespeare’s Globe is built from 100 per cent English oak, with components linked with mortise and tenon joints – both features shared by the original – and also has the only thatched roof permitted in all London since the Great Fire of 1666.
The attention to historical detail even extends to the pit area, which remains standing only, albeit with a concrete surface rather than the earthen/straw mix of the 16th/17th century. A second Shakespearean play venue, the Blackfriars Theater, is also being reconstructed and is due to open by 2014.