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Shakespeare's Globe Theater

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Shakespeare's Globe Theater. Because theater and acting were not considered wholesome entertainment in Shakespeare’s day, Theaters were located across the River Thames from London. There are 2 theaters in this engraving. Can you find them and tell which one is opened for business?.

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Because theater and acting were not considered wholesome entertainment in Shakespeare’s day,

Theaters were located across the River Thames from London.

There are 2 theaters in this engraving. Can you find them and tell which one is opened for business?
A flag flying atop the theater signaled to those across the river or those who could not read that a play was to be performed that day. Actors also put up posters around town. This is where we get the term playbill.
Shakespeare’s theater, The Globe, Theater was built in 1598. It was doughnut-shaped and open to the sky.
In Shakespeare’s day, there was no electricity, so plays were performed in the afternoons when the weather was good.
The stage itself was somewhat different from our modern stages . . .

It was composed of several parts and decorated with quite a bit of symbolism . . . .

Let’s begin with the hut, the structure atop the stage.

The hut wasused for storing props and costumes. It even housed a cannon and cannon balls for sound effects!

While the cannon undoubtedly pleased the spectators, who insisted on realistic special effects, it had a dreadful result.

A spark from the canon eventually caused the Globe to burn down.

The hut also contained a trap door that led to the stage ceiling. It was used for gods or angels to descend to the stage from above. It was also handy for dropping various props -- flowers, drapes, leaves, etc-- since these were stored in the attic hut.
The stage of the Globe was made of bare boards. The stage wall was decorated in trompe l'oeil marble and stone, and (according to descriptions made by visitors to the original Globe) illustrated with real and fake statues of gods and planetary deities.

Behind the wall, the Tiring House is the part of the playhouse where Elizabethan actors would get dressed ('attired').

The balcony runs across the whole of the stage, and is divided into three sections. The central section was usually used by the musicians, while  privileged members of the audience sat in the side sections. The aristocracy favored these seats because they could be seen (and heard) just as well as the actors. That is why they were called the Lords' Rooms.
Balcony with gentlemen’s rooms

View of balcony with gentlemen’s rooms looking up from stage

Were you surprised to learn that music was a part of Shakespeare’s plays? All Shakespearean plays included music AND dance.  The original Globe did not have its own band until 1609.

In 1609 Shakespeare’s company the KING’S MEN acquired the Blackfriars.

In the center of the Heavens a cloud with golden rays and stars conceals the Heavens trapdoor. The trap was just above the “the power position” on the stage, slightly back of center: the place where actors see and are seen by the greatest number of people. 
A zodiac circle forms part of the Heavens above the stage (you can only see part of it because the rest of the circle is in the ceiling of the balcony). Besides musicians and rich patrons, actors also used the balcony as an acting space-- in Romeo and Juliet for example.
  • The zodiac was painted in the heavens because planets and constellations were believed to influence our destinies.
Two stage pillars are necessary to hold up the Heavens. They are made of two massive single tree trunks painted in trompe l'oeil marble effect.  The columns represent opposing forces War and Love, Night and Day, Tragedy and Comedy, etc. 

Actors could use a pillar as a hiding place, a tree, a promontory, or an orator's rostrum

The frieze above the Globe stage

contains six zodiac signs that, according to astrological beliefs, govern the destinies of human beings whose lives are represented in the play on the stage below.

The gods all function in pairs like the pillars that hold up the Heavens. (From left to right: Sol, Jupiter, Venus, a map of the spheres, Mars, Saturn, Luna.)

Sol (the sun) is also the god Apollo. The frieze itself symbolizes the philosopher's stone famous to alchemists

Luna  (the moon)  is also the goddess Diana, symbol of chastity and a dedicated huntress 

Venus (love) is born of the foam of the sea and is often pictured with her son cupid.

Mars (war) is both her lover and her opposing principle. 

A small pentice borders the top of the stage, the figure of Fame blows her trumpet summoning spectators to the performance of the play. 
That figure is particularly interesting since the beginnings of plays were signaled by trumpet players—in a way something like the derby is today.


of the







acted to absorb unwanted sound (rushes were also used in London homes).

In the original Globe, you could sit  on the wooden benches surrounding the stage if you could afford to pay twopence.Here you would have a roof over your head to protect you from the weather.
Heavily padded Elizabethan clothes would have provided some comfort on the hard benches, but since there was no limit on the number of people, it probably got rather cramped.
The original Globe could house up to 3000 crammed together playgoers.

(If you go to the Globe today you can rent a cushion for the play.)

But even if you didn’t have the money for a seat in the gallery, you could still attend a play . . . .

for just a penny you could stand in the pit (the area around the stage) and watch the play.

The stage

at 5 feet



that most


saw the

action. The Elizabethan actors would not have left the stage to act in the yard because of the risk it presented to their persons and their clothing.

Up to 1000 people could stand in the yard, huddling around the stage and watching the action. Food and drink could be brought in the yard and consumed during the performance. The groundlings were free to move around, but it could be rather difficult. In the original Globe, it got so smelly and hot that they were also nicknamed "stinkards". 
The groundlings made performances at the Globe memorable: they laughed heartily at jokes and were part of the action. . . .
The actors included them too-- sometimes seeing them as an army, a forest, a court . . .
  • On their own, they participated both verbally and physically: throwing back items the actors had just thrown into the yard, helping characters make choices, answering jokes--
Perhaps the restlessness of the crowd is the reason Shakespeare included the lines “with patient ears attend” in the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet. (He was anticipating noise.)
Because acting was not considered respectable, female parts were often performed by boys whose voices had not yet changed.—a Renaissance man could write poetry, wear silks, and cry without suffering any loss of manliness. If they became good actors, they could live well on their incomes.