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This Day In History, 1613: Globe Theatre Burns Down

(Today's entry dedicated to the bard_in_boston community.)

The Globe Theater, where most of Shakespeare's plays debuted, burned down on this day in 1613.


The Globe was built by Shakespeare's acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, in 1599 from the timbers of London's very first permanent theater, Burbage's Theater, built in 1576. Before James Burbage built his theater, plays and dramatic performances were ad hoc affairs, performed on street corners and in the yards of inns. However, the Common Council of London, in 1574, started licensing theatrical pieces performed in inn yards within the city limits. To escape the restriction, actor James Burbage built his own theater on land he leased outside the city limits. When Burbage's lease ran out, the Lord Chamberlain's men moved the timbers to a new location and created the Globe. Like other theaters of its time, the Globe was a round wooden structure with a stage at one end, and covered balconies for the gentry. The galleries could seat about 1,000 people, with room for another 2,000 "groundlings," who could stand on the ground around the stage.

In 1613, the original Globe Theatre burned to the ground. Responsibility has been placed on a cannon shot during a performance of Henry VIII that ignited the thatched roof of the gallery. Construction was begun on the original foundation, and a new Globe was summarily completed before Shakespeare's death.

The new Globe continued operating as a theatre until 1642, when it was closed down by the Puritans (as were all the theatres and any place, for that matter, where people might be entertained). In 1644, the Globe was razed in order to build tenements upon the premises.

In 1993, the late Sam Wanamaker saw the beginning of construction on a new Globe theatre near the site of the original. This latest Globe Theatre was completed in 1996, and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in May of 1997 with a production of Henry V. The Globe is as faithful a reproduction as possible to the Elizabethan model, and seats 1,500 people between the galleries and the "groundlings." In its initial 1997 season, the theatre attracted 210,000 patrons.


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I saw that Henry V as a groundling, and I can tell you, it was incredible. The entire cast was men (except for one musician), as it would have been in Shakespeare's time, and the parts were doubled up just as they are believed to have been in the first production: the man who played Boy also played Katherine; the man who played Mistress Quickly also played one of Henry's army. The costumes were accurately Elizabethan down to the last detail -- I remember seeing the straightpins holding Henry's ruff in place, just as they would have in an Elizabethan collar.

The performance I saw was also attended by Hilary Clinton and Cheri Blair. There is nothing like a little coincidental context for the prologue: "...monarchs to behold the swelling scene... Suppose within the girdle of these walls Are now confined two mighty monarchies..."
I've worked on two productions of it. The first one was very, very good. The second was full of itself -- certainly funny at points, and the audience LOVED it, but it didn't help me any that I knew the actors. Glad I saw it, don't need to see it again.
gnomi and I saw it live at the Publick Theatre a few years ago, and loved it.

This Day In History, 1939:

My Mom was born! Happy birthday, Mom!

Re: This Day In History, 1939:

Happy birthday to your Mom! But unless she reads my blog, you might want to tell her directly..
Also worth mentioning that there were no known fatalities from the fire. History records one man's breeches caught on fire, but a quick-thinking witness put it out with some ale.

[I wonder if Wanamaker's architects tried to use that to argue that modifications for modern safety codes were unnecessary.]

I've never been to the modern Globe but hope to go. I also wish loads of fundraising success and a speedy process to the Rose Project planned for Lenox, MA.
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