Step back into Shakespeare's time with a visit to the Globe Theatre in Southwark, a stunning reconstruction of the Bard's early playhouse. Founded by the actor Sam Wanamaker, this is not only a working theatre, but an educational centre and the world's largest exhibition devoted entirely to Shakespeare and his world.
Shakespeare's company erected the storied Globe Theatre circa 1598 in London's Bank side district. It was one of four major theatres in the area, along with the Swan, the Rose, and the Hope. The open-air, octagonal amphitheater raised three stories high with a diameter of approximately 100 feet, holding a seating capacity of up to 3,000 spectators. The rectangular stage platform on which the plays were performed was nearly 43 feet wide and 28 feet deep. This staging area probably housed trap doors in its flooring and primitive rigging overhead for various stage effects.
The foundations of the Globe were rediscovered in 1989, rekindling interest in a fitful attempt to erect a modern version of the amphitheater. Led by the vision of the late Sam Wanamaker, workers began construction in 1993 on the new theatre near the site of the original. The latest Globe Theatre was completed in 1996, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the theatre on June 12, 1997 with a production of Henry V. The Globe is as faithful a reproduction as possible to the Elizabethan model, seating 1,500 people between the galleries and the "groundlings." In its initial 1997 season, the theatre attracted 210,000 patrons. The Globe Theatre, and indeed, the entire Elizabethan theater scene opened its doors to the low life of the pits, it also accommodated an audience of higher-status, well-heeled, and better educated individuals.
It is often mentioned in passing that Shakespeare himself appeared as an actor on the Globe's stage. This aspect of the Bard's life in the theater should not be over-estimated. Shakespeare's name appears in the cast lists of plays written by himself and by other Elizabethan authors, but there is no indication of the roles that he played. Tradition ascribes two parts to Shakespeare himself, that of the Ghost of Hamlet's Father in Hamlet and that of Adam, the loyal, aged servant in As You Like It. In 1603, Shakespeare apparently acted in a play written by his friend and fellow author, Ben Jonson.
Shakespeare's Globe is the new kid on the block (or the oldest kid, depending upon how you look at it). A faithful reconstruction of the original, the open-air theatre is open only from May through September but, by using floodlights which furnish what its spokespeople call "artificial daylight" at night, The Globe is able to schedule both matinee and evening performances.
The Globe also offers "The Globe Experience," a museum/tour which tells the story of how Sam Wanamaker, an American actor, pursued and fulfilled his dream of re-building the same theatre for which Shakespeare wrote. The museum contains costumes, miniatures of other Elizabethan theatres and interactive displays which allow visitors to "join the cast" or hear actors, ranging from Ellen Terry to Kenneth Branagh, bringing Shakespeare's words to life.