Thursday, September 20, 2007

Exploring the Globe

Have you ever thought about what the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s time looked like? The current exhibit at the National Building Museum called “Reinventing the Globe” addresses the history and the future of the Globe Theatre. One of the benefits of being retired is that I can now join the Temple Micah Lunch Bunch for interesting mid-week tours like this. Our docent was a cousin of one of our members so we got the inside scoop and the free entry made it even more attractive.

Our guide highly recommended the book “Will and the World” by Stephen Greenblatt as an introduction to the life and times of the famous bard. Apparently he was highly ridiculed by his contemporaries, such as Marlowe and Spencer, because he lacked the formal education they had. His success was difficult for them to accept.

Prior to his writing, plays were generally put on by wandering bands of players that went from town to town and didn’t need much of a repertoire because they simply moved on. However, with the opening of the Globe and other permanent theaters, there was suddenly the demand for more plays to perform. This is apparently what attracted Shakespeare to London, leaving his wife behind in Stratford.

I found it utterly amazing that there is no historical evidence of what the original Globe Theatre looked like. Most artists give it a somewhat rounded or multi-sided shape. The thought today is that it had a “thrust” stage which occupied much of the lowest level of floor space. Those with wealth occupied the covered seating that wrapped around much of the stage in multiple levels. Groundlings, or those who had little money, sat on the floor around the stage. The capacity was around 3,000 people.

It was located in one of the seedier parts of London, not far from the structure where they did “bear baiting”, reminiscent of Vick’s dog fights. I picture a raucous crowd who were eating and drinking and in intimate reach of the performers, who sometimes simply blended in with the crowd.

The second segment of the exhibit featured the many attempts to reproduce the Globe Theatre in cities around the world. Our own Folger Shakespeare Library ranks right up there with the best. Washington is blessed with multiple options for great Shakespeare, including the Folger, the Shakespeare Theater, and the newest Sidney Harman Hall, which was designed by Michael Kahn. Many of these theaters attempt to reinvent the Globe, including the Ice Globe in Sweden, built and melted several years ago.

The final segment of the exhibit looked at possibilities for the Globe Theatre for the 21st Century. These included several attempts to recreate the original idea of roving troupes of players:

– Shakespeare on a floating barge that could be moved around various waterways in New York City.
– Shakespeare on a truck that featured inflatable seating for the audience.
– Shakespeare with a movable structure in components that resembled a large Erector Kit, called Globetrotters.

Although there is so very little that can be documented about the life and times of William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre, I highly recommend this exhibit that gives you a much better feel for the structures that have supported and will continue to let us enjoy the works of one of the greatest writers the world will ever know.


Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I love the idea of "Bard on a Barge"!!
I've been to Stratford-Upon-Avon in England and the Shakespeare Theatre in the town of Stratford here in Ontario and thought both were excellent. They really gave you the idea. I don't go nearly enough though.

3:16 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

Last time I was in London I strolled by the Globe Theater that was re-created on the Thames in the 1990s. I wanted to go inside and take a tour, but they were asking crazy money, like 15-20 pounds, and I didn't think it was worth it. Didn't Shakespeare pride himself on having cheap seats to his performances, for the poor folks?

3:59 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I've heard great things about the theater in Stratford, Ontario.

Matt -- Yes, from what I understand the "groundlings" paid next to nothing to attend. Sort of like lawn seats at Wolftrap.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'll have to check it out! I do enjoy the Building Museum. And Shakespeare. A troupe of roving players makes me think of Kiss Me, Kate...

A troupe of strolling players are we,
Not stars like L.B. Mayer's are we,
But just a simple band
Who roams about the land
Dispensing fol-de-rol frivolity.

Based on The Taming of Shrew, was it not?

5:09 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I think I had heard that about Kiss Me, Kate, but I could not have pulled that piece of trivia out of my head. I'm always so impressed that you keep all these lyrics in your head!

Do go visit the exhibit. It's quite well done.

6:22 PM  

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