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London's Globe Theatre celebrates first two PhDs

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News

image captionSarah Dustagheer and Penelope Woods researched at the Globe and also gave lectures and workshops there

Take a trip to the iconic Globe theatre in London and you might find yourself being studied rather closely.

You might even find yourself in the pages of the first two PhDs to be awarded in a joint venture between the Globe and universities in the capital.

Just hope that you are not the one who annoyed the actors with an uncontrollable yawn, a noisy fidget - or even a faint.

Audience behaviour and its effect on actors - and on Shakespeare himself - are among the topics looked at by the academics.

One looked at Shakespeare's audiences past and present and the other at how Shakespeare was influenced by two different London venues - one indoor and one outdoor - and the audiences there.

Penelope Woods has been awarded a PhD for her work comparing audiences at the modern Globe and those of around 1600 AD at the original theatre, which stood on a site a few hundred metres away on the south bank of the Thames.

She analysed the behaviour and reactions of modern-day audiences and their effect on the play and actors, following live performances and recordings of them and interviewing actors and audience members.

"What was very interesting was the live audience research - it rarely gets done," said Penelope Woods.

image captionThe Globe theatre opened in June 1997

"It's a chance to talk to audience members, document what they enjoy and observe their behaviour - and tie that in with the response of the actors and capture how audiences behave at the Globe."

She thinks the setting and staging at the Globe gives the audience a lot of power - not least because of what she calls the "shared light" between the actors and audience.

Unlike indoor theatres, where only the stage is lit, actors can see the audience clearly.

"It means the audience have a lot more power, not as in a normal theatre where they are conditioned to be silent - the actors find that really difficult," she said.

"They are not used to noisy behaviour.

"And they have to get people's attention quickly and their good behaviour. It's a risk."

Forty-six faints

Penelope says actors can be exasperated by people in the audience yawning - because they assume they must be bored.

"Yawning is very interesting - it's really problematic," she said.

"We feel that someone is bored or tired or not engaged, but physiologically it is a sign of fatigue but also because people have been standing up or are dehydrated. It produces a feeling of frustration in the actors, who think: 'I'm trying my best here and look at you.'

If yawning is annoying, how off-putting must it been when members of your audience faint?

That's something Penelope kept a tally of - and found a link between faints and moments of high drama.

She says an astonishing 46 people fainted in one afternoon during a performance of Macbeth.

image captionThe original Globe held up to 3,000 people - the present one holds 700 seated and 700 standing

"It seemed mainly to coincide with a particularly bloody scene when the Thane of Cawdor is tied to a pillar and has his neck broken," she said.

"Being an audience member at the Globe is physically challenging, whether you have to stand up the whole time or the seats are too hard."

As in Shakespeare's time, some of the audience stand on the ground around the stage - or prop themselves up against it. They are known as "groundlings" and pay the lowest price for entry.

In Shakespeare's time, they would have paid a penny, according to Sarah Dustagheer, who was awarded her PhD for research in to "the relationship between playwriting and theatre space in early modern London".

She looked at the difference between plays and audiences at the original Globe and an indoor Jacobean theatre on the other side of the Thames at Blackfriars, where Shakespeare's players also performed to a wealthier but smaller crowd.

She believes Shakespeare tailored the plays he wrote for the two venues, including in terms of setting, music and costumes.

"In the winter, Shakespeare's company - the King's Men - performed in a small space, by candlelight, with all the audience seated and a much smaller stage," she said.

There, theatregoers were more wealthy, paying at least sixpence to sit in a candle-lit auditorium which held about 900 people, compared with the Globe which held 2,000 to 3,000 people then.

Some young men, who were known as "Gallants" paid a premium to sit on the stage with the performers, said Ms Dustagheer.

"There are a lot of contemporary first accounts that suggest they came to show off their finery and latest fashions by candlelight.

"Playwrights seemed to write in a visual display to match that - for example a character coming on and saying: 'Look at my lovely ring - it shows well by candlelight.'"


The academic believes plays written for the smaller, intimate venue were more likely to show domestic or indoor scenes, while those written for the Globe often included crowd scenes - such as in Julius Caesar.

Shakespeare's later plays such as The Tempest, Winter's Tale and Cymbeline were performed at Blackfriars.

"The Tempest is a play full of music and people drawing attention to their clothing - for example Prospero's magic robes or Ariel dressed as a Harpie. It suggests to me that he was thinking about the effect of the candlelight," said Ms Dustagheer.

Penelope Woods also looked at the original audiences of Shakespeare's plays through what was written about them at the time - and says there was a fair amount of snobbery.

"We have a lot of colourful accounts of audience behaviour, especially from anti-theatrical writers and also from the writers themselves, who could be very scornful of audience, condemning them for not knowing when to laugh in the right places," she said.

"There are colourful accounts of how they smelt and what they drank and ate.

"There was snobbery, an attitude that an indoor audience was seen as superior.

"The same attitude exists today, with critics reviewing the audience saying things like 'Lots of tourists here today', showing a belief that the audience is not as elite as at the Old Vic."

The PhDs are the first to be awarded through joint ventures between The Globe and Queen Mary, University of London, and King's College London.

The academics' work was supervised by experts from their universities and by Farah Karim-Cooper, head of courses and research at Shakespeare's Globe.

Like the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare's Globe has a thriving education department, conducting research as well as running lectures and workshops for schools, actors and audiences.

Farah Karim-Cooper said: "It was research knowledge that helped to build The Globe and the space has always been seen as a testing ground from an academic point of view.

"We have always been looking at ways to focus PhDs on community and people-focused research, and this was also a way of developing knowledge.

"We commissioned research topics that needed to be done and they [Sarah Dustagheer and Penelope Woods] took on the topics and made them their own, and did brilliantly with that."

The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under a scheme which encourages collaboration between universities and businesses and other organisations.

The research on the indoor Jacobean theatre has helped with the planning of a new building project - to construct a Jacobean theatre and research centre in part of the Globe currently used to house its archive and library.

This will be refurbished to include a reading room and video-conferencing facilities, and will allow the Globe to accept a donation from a New York collector which includes rare books and Shakespearean documents.

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