On our recent trip to London while exploring the city with the kids, I came to a realization that we were minutes from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and that in all the many times I’ve visited, I’ve never been. A Shakespeare fan since high school, I really wanted to visit the home of all his early works. One caveat: my kids were with me. Would they make it through the 45 minute tour? And I had my niece. It would be a daring feat, but I was determined to try.
A bit of history about the theatre: It was up and running in 1599 and Shakespeare started to have all his shows produced there. In 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII, wadding from a stage cannon ignited the thatched roof and the theatre burned to the ground ‘all in less than two hours, the people having enough to do to save themselves’. The theatre was quickly rebuilt. Shakespeare may have acted in the second Globe, but he probably never wrote for it, yet it remained the home for Shakespeare’s old company until the closure of all the theatres under England’s Puritan administration in 1642. No longer of use, it was demolished to make room for tenements in 1644.
The Globe, which officially opened in 1997, is a reconstruction of an open-air theatre designed in 1599. On our tour, where I can proudly say that my kids were the youngest members, we learned about the structure and that the Globe itself wasn’t really circular. To reconstruct it, great care was spent recreating the 16th century look with oak, water reed thatch an staves. Sitting in the seats facing the stage felt very Shakespearean, and it’s amazing to think that it was reconstructed using the imagination. When builders recreated it, they looked to his work for suggestive descriptions included in the plays themselves, such as the famous Chorus which begins Henry V: ‘And shall this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France / Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’…’ Other than concessions to comply with modern day fire regulations such as additional exits, illuminated signage, fire retardant materials and some modern backstage machinery, the Globe is as accurate a reconstruction of the 1599 Globe as was possible with the available evidence. It was easy for me to imagine my favorite Shakespearea plays being produced on the stage – Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, MacBeth, you name it.
A few fun facts we learned on our tour:
*The timber for The Globe Theatre was actually reused wood from “The Theatre” – an earlier theatre owned by Globe founder Richard Burbage’s father.
*The Globe had three stories of seating and was able to hold up to 3,000 spectators in it’s 100 foot diameter.
*At the base of the stage was an area called “the pit” which held “the groundlings” – people who paid just a penny to stand and watch a performance.
*There were no actresses performing at The Globe Theatre – or any other theatre at that time. Female roles were played by young boys as theatre stages were considered too risque a place for ladies.
How did my kids and niece endure the tour? I think they liked climbing through the theater. While we sat listening to the tour guide in the theater, learning about the Elizabethan era, they curiously watched set designers setting up the stage for that night’s performance. I can’t say that they truly absorbed everything and are now Shakespeare lovers, but I was proud that they didn’t disrupt the tour and allowed me to indulge my passion while on our short stay in London.
THE SKINNY ON SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE:
Address: 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London
Tour prices: Adults cost £12.50, seniors cost £11.50, students cost £10.50 and children ages 5-15 cost £7.50.
Opening times: October to April: 10am – 5pm; May to October: 9am – 12.30pm
Address: 21 New Globe Walk, The Shakespeare Globe Trust, London, SE1 9DT
Suitable for kids? I don’t see why not. Sitting in a theatre in the round isn’t painful for anyone.