The stage – Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s company built the Globe in 1599 in Southwark on the south bank of the Thames. It replaced an earlier theatre, the Rose. In 1613 the Globe burned down and the company rebuilt it on the same spot.

The Globe was an open-air theatre shaped like a doughnut. There were shelters over the seats and the stage, but the middle section was open to the sky. The sun was the only source of light – performances took place during the day, not at night like they do now. The building was made of wood and plaster, like most Tudor buildings, which meant it was vulnerable to fire. No candles!

The Globe’s name was symbolic – it meant that the theatre represented the whole world. Shakespeare himself wrote: All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players. Although the theatre always looked the same, and did not have the same elaborate sets that we have today, it could represent any place and any time.

The stage only had one backdrop, richly painted. There was no set and only a few pieces of furniture that might be brought on stage. Props which could be carried would be used. Instead of objects and setting, the words would tell you where the play was set and what you should be imagining. There was often an acknowledgement that it was a play and not real life. For example in Henry V the chorus asks the audience to accept the limitations of acting out a massive battle with a small number of people on the stage, referring to the shape of the theatre as this wooden O.

Did you know?

There is a reconstruction of the Globe built not far from its original location in Southwark, London.

  • The project took 27 years to complete and it was opened to the public in 1997.
  • It was built using Elizabethan techniques – it’s made of wood and plaster.
  • In Shakespeare’s time the River Thames was much wider, so the original Globe was right on the riverside – just like the reconstruction.
  • The modern building has sprinklers to protect against fire.
  • The seating arrangements are the same. Groundlings can buy a ticket to stand in the pit, and if you are sitting on a bench you have to hire a cushion separately!