Bard Bits: Going Global
Shakespeare and crew pulled a fast one on their landlord. After a disagreement about their lease, they dismantled the theatre and ferried it across the Thames, then they rebuilt it Southwark. Although there were nine theaters operating, people tended to choose Shakespeare’s, The Globe. The transplanted Globe shared its new digs with distinctive neighbors such as bear bait pits, prostitutes, pimps, pubs, taverns, pickpockets, thieves, and swindlers. The swanks still came to theatre though, but it’s doubtful they mingled with Southwark regulars in the cheap seats.
Besides the fast getaway, The Globe has other fascinating facts:
- It was an open-air theatre that held about three thousand spectators.
- Performances were given every day except Sunday. Plays ran from 2pm to 5pm so the sunlight would not be a hindrance to the audience or the players.
- The city fathers thought playgoing was immoral and did not allow the theatres to advertise. The Globe did not advertise intentionally, but they did raise a flag at 2 pm to let everyone know the play was about to start.
- People paid their admission by dropping their money into a box at the entrance (ahem–the box office). People could sit on cushions under the timber roofs, or stand in the open-air courtyard elbow-to-elbow or even the sit upon the stage, if among the exclusive patrons.
- Vendors sold patrons beer, water, oranges, nuts, gingerbread, and apples. Hazelnuts were apparently the equivalent of Raisinets. Occasionally the patrons would toss them at the actors.
- With no restrooms or intermissions or the tendency for Elizabethans to not bathe, the theatre atmosphere tended to be somewhat aromatic.
- Actors, not producers or directors, controlled the play.
- Scenery and props were minimal. Shakespeare described the setting through his words. Lines such as, “Soft, what light through yonder window breaks” let the audience know where they were and what time of day it was.
- Women were forbidden to be on the stage. Young adolescent boys played the roles of girls, while older men painted their faces and spoke with a falsetto to play women.
- Actors learned their parts in about a week. A lead actor might have to learn about 800 lines a day. Over a three year period a lead actor could have learned enough lines to play over seventy roles.
- Elizabethans were a tough crowd. They demanded fresh and new. In a six-month season a single company might give 150 performances of 30 different plays. Some plays lasted one performance, while others had a long run of six months.
- Playhouses were sponsored by a patron, a nobleman, who willingly lent their names and financial support to the their acting troupe. Shakespeare’s company managed to become the premier company of London by becoming the King’s men, by way of James I.
- No royalty payments for Shakespeare, since he did not own the plays, as they belonged to the acting company. Shakespeare was part owner of the Globe and shared in the box office. He made enough money to retire well in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1610.
- The Globe burnt down in 1613 during the first night performance of Henry VIII when the prop cannon exploded. No lives lost, just some burnt breeches.
- With some Puritan pressure the Parliament shut down the theatres in 1642.
- However, in 1997 the New Globe opened and Shakespeare’s plays have happily been available to everyone to view without pressure of being closed down from special interest groups.