For over 400 years Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has witnessed Shakespeare’s popularity and endurance.
Today, tourists can visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London – a faithful reconstruction of the original building sited just a few hundred yards from the original location.
The Globe Theatre was:
- Able to hold 3,000 spectators
- Approximately 100 feet in diameter
- Three stories high
- Open air
Stealing The Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was built in Bankside, London in 1598. Remarkably, it was built from the materials salvaged from a theater of similar design just across the River Thames in Shoreditch.
The original building, simply named The Theatre, was constructed in 1576 by the Burbage family – a few years later a young William Shakespeare joined Burbage’s acting company.
A long-standing dispute over ownership and an expired lease caused problems for Burbage’s troupe and in 1598 the company decided to take matters into their own hands.
On 28 December 1598, the Burbage family and a team of carpenters dismantled The Theatre in the dead of night and carried the timbers over the river. The stolen theater was rebuilt and renamed The Globe.
To raise finance for the new project, Burbage sold shares in the building – and the business-savvy Shakespeare invested alongside three other actors.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – A Sad End!
The Globe Theatre burnt down in 1613 when a stage special effect went disastrously wrong. A cannon used for a performance of Henry VIII set light to the thatched roof and the fire quickly spread. Reportedly, it took less than two hours for the building to completely burn to the ground!
Industrious as ever, the company quickly bounced back and rebuilt The Globe with a tiled roof. However, the building fell into disuse in 1642 when the Puritans closed all theaters in England.
Sadly, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was demolished two years later in 1644 to make room for tenements.
Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
It was not until 1989 that the foundations of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre were discovered in Bankside. The discovery spurred the late Sam Wanamaker to pioneer a mammoth fundraising and research project that eventually led to the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre between 1993 and 1996. Unfortunately, Wanamaker did not live to see the completed theater.
Although nobody is certain what The Globe actually looked like, the project pieced together historical evidence and used traditional building techniques to construct a theater that was as faithful as possible to the original.
A little more safety-conscious than the original, the newly constructed theater seats 1,500 people (half the original capacity), utilizes fire-retardant materials and uses modern backstage machinery. However, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre continues to stage Shakespeare’s plays in the open air, exposing the spectators to English weather.