The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Have ye been to the globe?
By Mohinder Singh

SHAKESPEARE’S Globe, opened in 1997, was voted the best attraction in Europe, and awarded the Golden Star Award by the European Federation of Associations of Tourism Journalists. The resurrected theatre and the related exhibition have been attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Exactly 400 years back, the original Globe opened on the South Bank of the Thames (theatres, deemed rowdy places then, were sited away from downtown). Accidentally burnt down in 1613, Globe was quickly rebuilt.

This was the theatre where most of Shakespeare’s plays were acted. Shakespeare himself, till his death in 1616, was an important member of the Chamberlain’s Men (later Kings’ Men Company) that owned Globe and enacted plays there. His continuous association must have given direct working knowledge of all aspects of theatre: able to work with his plays in rehearsal and performance and to know his actors and his audiences and all the different potentialities of theatres and their equipment. In the 20 years that Shakespeare devoted himself assiduously to his art, he wrote more than a million words of poetic drama of the highest quality rebuilt.


The Puritans closed down Globe in 1642. In time the structure completely disappeared. Now it has been reconstructed — after countless attempts at its reconstructing, whether on paper or in reality. The latest site is 200 yards away from the original one (which stands occupied by a listed building Globe Apartments). The new location commands a grand view of the river flowing by.

Backed by painstaking historical research, every effort has been made to stay faithful to the original design. Traditional materials and techniques have been used in reconstruction. The roof is thatched with Norfolk reed and walls are made with lime plaster. The circular theatre duplicates the original in having twenty wooden bays, each three storeys high.

The stage is roofed and thatched, with a fixed decorated back wall. Huge oak pillars painted to look like marble — one on each side of the stage — support the Heavens, the painted canopy over the stage.

The theatre is open to the sky in the middle, as of old, with no heating or cooling. And so performances are held at late evenings and only from the month of May to September.

To give an added edge to authenticity, the new Globe opened with the same play Julius Caesar, said to be the one with which the original Globe opened in 1599.

This September when visiting London, we went to Globe where Antony and Cleopatra was showing. And found our £ 10 gallery-seats only a few feet away from the stage. It is wooden benches all round, with cushions available for hire.

Reaching the theatre did involve a 15-minute walk from the nearest underground station, the Bank. And we looked in vain for a nearby pub or restaurant for a quick pre-play meal; the theatre’s busy restaurant sported a long queue.

To our utter amazement some 600 people stood in the pit — the big space in front of the stage — for the whole three hours of the play. Indeed some spectators around the stage leaned on the stage for support, at times a touching distance from actors. Something reminiscent of Shakespeare’s audiences who stood in the pit and were a part of the action; an interactive relationship between the players and spectators.

Antony and Cleopatra is a long play, with much emphasis on language which is particularly sensuous, imaginative and vigorous. It’s a difficult play to act, involving frequent scene changes. Act III, for example, has thirteen scenes and Act IV has fifteen. These scene changes were handled brilliantly with minimum fuss and loss of time.

The costumes, the mannerisms, the dialogue delivery, the entries and exits and the body language clearly showed that no effort had been spared to present the play the way it must have been enacted in Shakespeare’s days. The new theatre is doing a commendable job in exploring authentic practices of Shakespearean theatrical era. Seeing a play at Globe is a vastly different experience than reading the same in book form or at a typically modern theatre. You really get an inking of what Shakespeare meant when he was creating his plays. For instance, it becomes clearer why he had to bring in clowns and comic relief in the midst of grave or tragic happenings.

Widely regarded as the greatest writer of all time, Shakespeare occupies a unique position in world literature. His plays written in the late 16th and early 17th century for a small repertory theatre, are now performed and read more often and in more countries than ever before. The prophecy of his great contemporary Ben Jonson that Shakespeare "was not of an age, but for all time" has been marvellously fulfilled. In fact, popular interest in Shakespeare has been on rapid rise in recent years, with no little bit contributed by the acclaimed film Shakespeare in Love.

It has to be borne in mind that Shakespeare intended his plays to be acted, that he was the professional playwright of a repertory company, that the success of a play in performance by his company was what determined his income. What he wrote happened to attain the highest literary eminence but he comes out best when we see his plays acted in an authentic setting. The new Globe, that way, is bringing Shakespeare closer to men and women of today.

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