Sunday, 19 June 2005
An actor performs in the modern Globe on the Bankside.
Actors weren't always the softies they are now reputed to be. For instance, on a freezing, snowy December night in 1598, a troupe of them turned up at a recently vacated theatre in Shoreditch, armed with "swords, daggers, bills, axes and such like" as one contemporary account described it. The weather's contumely was such that the Thames had frozen over. Yet, with the aid of lanterns, this company of actors surrounded the area with guards and tore down the entire theatre in one evening. As the penumbra receded in the dawn hours, they began to load the stripped timber onto wagons, which they used to transport the timber to Southwark.
Before getting into the reasons for this apparent lunacy, it bears remarking that the actors could do this because a) there was no regular police force in London at the time, and b) they were all trained in the use of weapons, as actors were obliged to be in the days before stuntmen and botox. Mull over that: once upon a time, thespians were among the toughest fighters in London.
The occasion for the destruction of the Theatre in Shoreditch was that the owner of the land on which it had been built had refused to renew the lease. The Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's company of actors and our esteemed vandals, had played at the theatre for years, and many of Shakespeare's most famously plays had been performed there: Richard III, Richard II and The Merchant of Venice, for instance. To raise funds, the company sold off many of the play books for these popular plays, but the situation was more desperate than that, and it demanded greater ingenuity.
For that reason, and in that fashion, the Theatre was carefully taken apart, and transported across the river to site they had secured not far from the Rose Theatre in Southwark. A talented carpenter named Peter Streete recycled the old pieces of wood to fashion an astonishing new theatre - a wooden polygon, capable of holding up to 3,000 spectators. Shakespeare, himself an investor in commodities, was a joint producer of this new theatre, as were some of his fellow actors. On the front, they placed a sign depicting Hercules carrying the world on his shoulders, and they called the theatre The Globe.
The present replica on the Bankside, while a splendid reproduction with excellent acoustics (I watched an all-woman cast perform Richard III), has only half the capacity of the original. All the other effects are faithfully re-created - from paper cups of dried fruits and nuts on sale to the uncharitable wooden seating, and also a large area at the front for people to stand and watch. If you ever care to visit, do pause to remember that it is a magnificent tribute to the recklessness, inventiveness and near-criminality of Shakespeare's acting company.
Posted by Anna at Sunday, June 19, 2005