Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
I firmly clench the iron rail on the upper gallery and carefully lean forward to get a better view of the cannon that once, marking the entrance of the king in Henry VIII, sparkled the fire on the thatched roof which burnt the entire theatre to the ground. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Almost 400 years later, the American actor, director and producer Sam Wanamaker set the Shakespeare Globe Trust and in 1997 modern Globe Theatre opened its entrance to Shakespeare’s followers, lovers and connoisseurs all over the world. Now it’s 2016 and I am finally at its door.
A modern yet incredibly old theatre awaits – oak is cut and fashioned according to the 16th-century practice and assembled in two-dimensional bays, oak laths and staves support lime plaster mixed according to a contemporary recipe, the walls are covered in a white lime wash and the roof is made of water reed thatch. I carefully touch the walls, the floor, the seats, I look around and cannot believe my eyes, but the hard surface of the wooden benches quickly brings me back to reality (no worries though, when watching a play, comfortable cushions for the seats can be rented for only 3 pounds :)).
The circular stairways bring us down to the ground level and the stage. The stage is projected halfway into the “pit” or the “yard” and has two majestic “Pillars of Hercules” that support a roof called the “Heavens”, painted with stars, moons, and signs of the zodiac to reflect the Renaissance belief in the influence of the movements of the stars upon the world below. (Should I start looking differently upon astrology?!) The yard is made of cobble stones just like in the old days and is of course roofless allowing the daylight for the afternoon performances. In the evening, however, special lights illuminate the whole theatre to recreate daylight (not that necessary during the summer for it gets dark around 10 pm :)).
At the Globe, the stage is surrounded by a yard where spectators can stand to watch the performance. These spectators are known as groundlings. “The groundlings have the best view of the Heavens”, I was told when booking a 5-pound ticket (the cheapest ticket you can buy in any of the London theatres). Now, I’m convinced – the best view of the stage and the actors as well. Furthermore, when coming onto the stage, the actors effortlessly pass through the crowd. “Excuse me”, Petruchio said softly passing right next to me. (Looked taller on the stage, though.)
The play starts with the music and the conversational tone between the musicians, the actors and the audience continues throughout. The atmosphere, the actors, the audience, the feelings, I can hardly describe for it feels like out of this world. My legs burn, my back aches so I sit down during the interval. Just like the other groundlings do. Just like they did at the beginning of the XVII century. As I look up through the roofless “O” of the theatre, an airplane flies over the cloudless blue sky. Suddenly, Shakespeare’s words from another play come to my mind:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his life plays many parts.” (*)
We surely do. As the past and present intertwine, and fantasy changes the reality, I begin to question my parts.
“Don’t do it, Kate”, somebody shouts cheerfully from the audience bringing me back from my wandering thoughts. Alas, she does.
“Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
Too little payment for so great a debt.” (**)
This “shrew” is successfully “tamed” only to summarize the play’s view of marital harmony, in which husbands provide peace, security, and comfort to their wives, who, in return, provide loyalty and obedience. Hmmm…. this is debatable. Nevertheless, it calls for a completely different story. And a completely different sentiment.
In the end, the audience awards the actors with cheers and outbursts of applause because, I am sure of it, for the previous three hours, we have all been out of our realm. Over one hundred “groundlings” and several hundred “nobles” leave the theatre satisfied. The journey, however, does not end there – the theatre also houses an engaging and informative Exhibition which explores the life of Shakespeare, the London where he lived, and the theatre for which he wrote. And the dream continues to live on…
* taken from As You Like It by William Shakespeare
** taken from The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare