Who was William Shakespeare?William Shakespeare is widely thought of as the best writer in the English language, and the world’s best playwright. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died there in 1616 after a prolific and successful career. He wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 long narrative poems, plus several other incomplete verses, and his works are performed more often than those of any other playwright throughout the world. His significance extends beyond the study of literature and into psychology and linguistics, and we still use many of his phrases today, including ‘good riddance’, ‘star-crossed’, ‘salad days’, and the phrase to ‘eat someone out of house and home’. Some scholars believe that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays which were attributed to him since he only received a Grammar school education, but it’s generally agreed that he was a powerhouse of a writer, and his reputation hasn’t dimmed over the centuries.
What’s so special about the Globe Theatre?The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a playing company which counted William Shakespeare, the greatest English playwright of all time, as a member. Many of his most famous plays were debuted there, and the company had exclusive rights to perform his plays for many years. The original Globe was built out of the timber from another theater, imaginatively called The Theatre, which was stolen by the company after a dispute with the owner of the plot of land where it had been standing, their argument being that he might own the land but not the building on top. The first Globe Theatre burned down in 1613 after a cannon set fire to the wooden beams and thatching of the roof during a performance of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt the next year before being closed down for good by Puritans in 1642 and was demolished shortly after.
So this theater isn’t the real Globe Theatre?The theater currently standing is a replica of the original, standing 750 feet (230m) from the location of Shakespeare’s theater. The project was founded in 1970 by Sam Wanamaker, who wanted to build a version of the Globe which was as close as possible to the one which stood during Shakespeare’s time, before the fire in 1613. It was reconstructed using what little was known about the original Globe, descriptions of its predecessor, The Theatre, and information from excavations of other theaters which date to this time, such as the Rose Theatre. It’s built entirely out of English Oak, with mortise and tenon joints and no structural steel, and it’s also the only building in London to have been allowed to build a thatched roof since the Great Fire of London in 1666. Special dispensation was given provided that the thatch was protected by fire retardants and sprinklers. Originally the theater’s productions didn’t use spotlights or microphones, to better recreate a Shakespearian experience, but recently this rule has been relaxed in some performances.
Does the theater only show plays by Shakespeare?The majority of the performances at the Globe Theatre are of plays by Shakespeare. However, there are other plays on offer throughout the year! The theater has a series called Read Not Dead, which focuses on plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries from the 16th and early 17th centuries, most of which are rarely performed. There are also occasional runs of modern plays, usually set in the time of Shakespeare, look out for them at the Globe Theatre’s website.
What will we see on a tour?The standard tour takes 40 minutes and is presented in English (though information sheets are available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Simplified Chinese). It includes a tour of the auditorium, including the seating and groundlings’ yard. The theater is an accurate reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe, which wouldn’t have had a separate backstage area, so there isn’t one to visit. You’ll also get access to the exhibition area which will give you some more historical context about the theater and London’s history, and there may also be demonstrations of historical costumes and stage fighting. Your tour may coincide with rehearsals on the stage, which you’re welcome to watch as long as you don’t take photographs and follow your guide’s instructions so as not to disturb the actors.
Is it suitable for children?A tour of the Globe Theatre and a trip to the exhibition space is suitable for children who are old enough to understand some of the history. There’s even a specially adapted version of the tour for families, and the guides will make sure that young children get to learn as well as enjoying their trip. Look out for special storytelling events for the over 5’s, during which storytellers adapt Shakespeare’s plays in a way that children will enjoy taking part in. As far as attending plays goes, children are welcome to attend, but parents should bear in mind the content of the particular play in question, and note that if you’re intending to book groundling tickets, children will have to stand or be held throughout the performance. Strollers aren’t allowed into the auditorium.