Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is worth a visit if you're in London, especially if you like Shakespeare's work. The Globe today is a recreation of the original that existed in Shakespeare's time, and was a project spearheaded by American actor Sam Wanamaker. He visited London in the post-war years expecting to find the original theatre, and found... nothing. He was so disappointed that he decided to try and raise the funds to recreate the theatre and an arts center. It was the work of his life... sadly, he died in 1993 and the theatre opened in 1997, but at least he died knowing it was nearly finished.
The original theatre was located not far away, but the foundation (which was found during a building project) is located underneath a 19th-century listed building called Arthur Terrace, which could not be torn down due to its protected status - not even for Shakespeare's sake. However, finding the foundation gave the builders of the new theatre more accurate and much larger dimensions than they had been expecting, and played an important part in the design of today's Globe Theatre.
Before the guided portion of the tour, there is an exhibition area where you can roam about at will, with or without an audio guide, to learn more about the Theatre and that part of London in Shakespeare's time.
There were several interesting costumes in the exhibit, notably this one used for Queen Elizabeth I who was on the throne in Shakespeare's day and who would have seen some of his plays. Ladies, can you imagine having to wear all that heavy clothing?
Another costume, probably for a lady-in-waiting or a nurse.
The under-skirt with hoops.
There were also examples of the musical instruments the minstrels would have played. There was one wind instrument neither of us had ever seen or heard of: the Crumphorm (the 2 horns with the curved ends - one an alto and the other a tenor). There was a video nearby that demonstrated how it was played and the sound it made - sort of like a high-end kazoo with a buzzing noise. Very odd.
At the appointed time for our tour, someone rang a bell and called out the tour time to assemble the group. Our guide was a very nice woman with a rather thick Scottish (or perhaps Yorkshire) accent, but for the most part we could understand her.
In the courtyard, all the pavers had the names of people who had contributed financially to the theatre, and just at our feet were two VERY well-known names: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh!
I know the photo looks funny upside down but I was standing on the other side of the names. :)
The stage, beautifully ornate in its decoration. There was a crew working on set design for an upcoming production (not one of Shakespeare's, though); this is working theatre in the summer months. In the winter months, there is now a brand-new indoor theatre adjacent, dedicated in Sam Wanamaker's name.
See the cross hanging horizontally up there?
Our group sat on the lower level while our guide talked (over the noise of hammers and power tools). The floor area of the theatre was where the "groundlings" would pay 1 penny for entrance. They had to stand the entire time. That area, believe it or not, could hold up to 1,000 people! (Now the maximum is 700.) I can't imagine what a mosh-pit that must have been - not to mention the stench of all those people who never washed (themselves or their garments) and who often ate onions and garlic liberally, to ward off the plague.
The open areas on the right above the stage were boxes for the nobility to sit. They came to be seen rather than to see.
Georges watching the set builders at work. My educated, intellectual husband is also very handy with power tools, and years ago took a course where he built several pieces of furniture that we have in our home today. So as noisy as it was in the theatre, it was interesting (for both of us) to watch these guys putting together parts of a set.
This man was laying down and fitting parts of a painted floor on this stage extension. It looked like houses or buildings in town, though why this would have been on the floor, I have no idea.
He managed to place 3 of the panels while we were there. Like watching a puzzle being put together.
The "gentlemen's boxes" were on the first mezzanine (which cost 3 pennies) for the upper classes to sit, watch - and be watched. They also got cushions for their upper-class posteriors to rest in comfort during the performance. But even though they were the upper classes, they were still kind of pigs: they would eat fruit during the performances and spit the pits down onto the groundlings (who were probably doing the same thing anyway).
It was interesting to learn more about what it was like to go to the theatre in the late 1500s. It was the first time that theatres were created for public entertainment; before that, theatre troups would wander from town to town, playing in town squares or, if they were lucky, in the courtyard of some rich nobleman's home. In Shakespeare's day, theatres were a new thing, and they were all located on the South bank of the Thames (which was for a long time the seedy, "bad" part of town, full of brothels and pubs, rogues and scoundrels). That's because in London proper (across the river) these activities were considered sinful by the priests and bishops who dictated the moral life and behavior of the people. But people of all social levels would cross the river by London Bridge and then all bets were off - people would come to see the plays at the Globe or one of the other theatres, have a good time for themselves in those brothels and pubs, and then go back across the river to London and the moral high ground.
Next time I'm in London I'm going to try and see a show here, if I can. I'll pay extra for a cushion, though; those wooden benches are VERY uncomfortable. However, I will not eat fruit and spit the pits down onto the groundlings. I think that's very bad form.