The wheel has come full circle

As much as I wanted to immedietely post all of my magical Globe findings on day one, I’m glad technological difficulties forced me to postpone this entry. I needed to revisit the exhibition this morning because my first tour  was just too much to fully appreciate. I was jet lagged and overwhelmed at that point, and I was simply too awestruck to filter everything. So today, armed with my iPhone camera and a notebook, I retraced my steps, slowly working my way through the various exhibits and looking at everything with my King Lear goggles on.

So here are the basic Did You Knows about the legendary Globe Theater:

– Shakespeare’s connection with the Globe and its company began at The Theatre in Shoreditch in 1580. Up until James Burbage built his permanent theater in 1576, companies traveled from inn to house to square without any venue of their own. When James died, complications over the lease forced his sons, Richard and Cuthbert, to seek a new location for their theater. They eventually found a plot of land on the Southbank, right beside the Thames. They built the Globe Theatre using tibers from The Theatre, and it was open to the public in 1599.

– Experts think the first play performed at The Globe was Henry V. When the rebuilt Globe opened in 1997, the company selected that as its very first play. Fittingly, the opening choral speech of the play was the perfect introduction:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

– The Globe’s rival, The Rose Theatre, was only about 100 yards away. The Rose was built in 1587 and had already established itself as a producer of popular new plays by the time The Globe came into the picture. There’s evidence of Titus Andronicus and Henry VI part I being performed there, in fact. Although Shakespeare lovers frequent The Globe for performances today, the structure itself is based more off of archeological findings from The Rose. There weren’t any structural grounds off of which to build The Globe; an excavation of The Rose in 1989 revealed two-thirds of the original foundation. I stumbled upon The Rose Theatre on my way to The Globe today, actually, and a determined group of volunteers is slaving away to get The Rose up and running again by 2016 (as of now, actors perform in a tiny, 50 seat space to the backdrop of red lights marking where the rest of The Rose stood).

– The Bankside, seperated from the city by the River Thames, was an escape from the strict, regulated life by which so many Londoners abided. Along with theaters, the rich and poor alike could pass their time there with a variety of entertainments: Bull and bear bating, cock fighting, bowling, inns and brothels, and of course, lots of drinking.

– The Globe is the only building in all of London with a thatched roof since 1666 (built with fireproof measures, of course).

– This is actually the third Globe Theatre. The first burned down in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII when a prop cannon forced 3,000 visitors to scurry outside for safety. Miraculously, everyone survived. The only serious recorded injury was sustained by a poor fellow whose britches caught on fire, but he managed to put out the flames with some ale. It was then demolished in 1644 after the Puritan administration banned all theatre from England.

– Today’s Globe holds 1,300 spectators, less than half of what the original managed to cram in. Shakespeare’s groundlings (a term he coined himself) were charged a penny, about a twelfth of their weekly earnings, to see a play, smashed in among hundreds of other Londoners. Seats could cost anything up to six pence. Today, The Globe charges only five pounds for a groundling ticket, which they estimate is about the same as a penny in Shakespeare’s time. Seated tickets cost up to 35 pounds.

– Shakespeare in Love was not filmed at The Globe. But that magical episode of Dr Who was, for any David Tennant fans who are interested! Tennant was actually married on The Globe stage, and the staff managed to keep it a private affair.

Of the more than 100 photos I’ve taken my my iphone so far, dropbox has ever so slowly only transposed a handful that I can use. So enjoy what I’m able to post so far. My phone camera isn’t the best quality so the photos are nothing special, but they’re good enough for now (so much for all those photog skills I honed at the Kent New this summer. Ah well).

These were just some fun, general facts I picked up here; I’m going to post a bit more about specific elements of Elizabethan theater I learned about (music, costumes, astrology). In the meantime, something to think about: One of the exhibition videos mentioned how intriguing it is that, after hundreds of years, we’ve returned to these old theatrical traditions. Southbank fell out of public interest for centuries, and the plan to rebuilt The Globe was totally absurd back when it began in the 1940s. But rebuilt it was, and since then, thousands of theatergoers have enjoyed not only the plays, but the full experience of Shakespeare’s work. So, to quote Edmund, the wheel has indeed come full circle.

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