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.