If ever there was a theatre that would mark the beginning of London’s theatre scene, and establish William Shakespeare’s prominent career as a playwright, one would turn their eye towards the famous Globe Theatre. The history behind this famous venue, still standing in Blackfriars for the last twenty years dates back to the Elizabethan age and around the time when England was thriving as a country under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The original Globe was rooted in English Renaissance, which derived from several medieval theatre traditions such as the mystery plays. Which were complex retellings of legends and biblical stories, additionally the italian tradition of Commedia dell’arte and the elaborate masques frequently presented at court came to play roles in shaping the public perception of British theatre. In time and before the reign of Elizabeth I, companies of players attached to the households of leading noblemen began performing in various locations seasonally.
These tours replaced the performances of the morality and mystery plays by local players and a law in 1572 eliminated the remaining companies lacking the formal patronage by deeming them vagabonds. In spite of hostility from the City of London authorities, the companies maintained the pretense that their public performances were mere rehearsals for frequent performances before the Queen. With the development of private theatres, drama became more oriented towards the tastes and values of upperclass audiences. The first proper theatre as we know it was built in Shoreditch in 1576, the owner James Burbage had obtained a 21 year lease to build the first playhouse that was aptly named “theatre”. By 1599, Shakespeare who had been acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men since 1594 paid into the coffers of the company a sum of money amounting to 12.5 percent of the cost of building the Globe. This investment gave Shakespeare and the other leading actors equal shares in the company’s profits and their playhouse.
For all its hurried completion, the Globe was a triumph and its first decade of use made it not only a favorite with generations of theatre goers, but within Shakespeare’s company. However in later years, the troupe paid a lot to keep it going particularly in 1608 when they could fulfill James Burbage’s original plan for the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, the members chose to extravagantly operate two theatres together. Using the Globe Theatre for the summer and the roofed Blackfriars for Winter. They transferred full-time to the Blackfriars in 1613, after a fire burned down the theatre during a performance of Henry VIII. By then the Blackfriars theatre was already bringing in better profits than the Globe since its smaller house size was compensated by its higher prices. The Globe Theatre was rebuilt a year later in 1614, twenty eight years later however during Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanic rule, along with so many theatres in London the Globe was forcibly closed on the authorization of British Parliament. It was demolished two years later, and its exact original location was unknown to the public until 1989.
By 1970, an actor named Sam Wanamaker was driven by the notion of reconstructing a replica of the original Globe, for the next 20 years he would pursue the ambition in organizing a recreation of the famous theatre. Sadly before he could see the realization he passed away in 1993, the current Globe theatre currently standing in Blackfriars would not be completed until 1997. To this day it is used as both a theatre and an education resource center, where people can come to learn about Shakespeare and his thirty seven plays. It has also been a starting ground for the careers of famous British born actors such as Mark Rylance, Michelle Terry, Tom Burke and even Richard Madden. In 2014, a replica of the famous indoor candlelit Blackfriars Theatre was opened to the public and named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in honor of the famous actor.
The history of the Globe remains integral to London’s theatre scene, without the theatre or indeed the works of William Shakespeare, the West End certainly would not have come to fruition in the following centuries. In modern times and in its current incarnation, the Globe continues to be a source of inspiration and fascination to generations of theatre-goers.
- Gurr, Andrew. “Globe Theatre.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 20 May 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Globe-Theatre#ref90165. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017.
2. “English Renaissance theatre.” English Renaissance theatre – New World Encyclopedia, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/English_Renaissance_theatre. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017
3. “The Globe Theatre.” PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource, http://www.playshakespeare.com/study/elizabethan-theatres/2189-the-globe-theatre. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017.
4. “The Old Globe Theater History.” The OLD GLOBE THEATER History, http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017.