Although Shakespeare's plays were performed at other venues during the playwright's career, the Globe Theatre in the Southwark district of London was the venue at which the Bard's best known stage works (including his four great tragedies) were first produced. The Globe was built during Shakespeare's early period in 1599 by one of his long-standing associates, Cuthbert Burbage, the brother of the most famous Shakespearean actor of the Elizabethan Age, Richard Burbage.
In 1597, Cuthbert Burbage inherited another London theater that was the first of its kind and simply called the Theatre. But there was a problem with this valuable legacy: Cuthbert Burbage owned the Theatre, its structure and materials, but the land on which the Theatre was erected was leased by his father and his eldest son was unable to negotiate a renewal of the land lease. The far-sighted if fledgling impresario tore down the Theatre and used its timbers and other elements as the building materials for what would become the Globe Theatre. Before erecting the Globe at a nearby site, Cuthbert assured himself and his partners that they would have a stream of stellar content and the most renowned company of actors in England. Burbage essentially built the Globe for the Chamberlain's Men, including their chief writer, William Shakespeare. The lease for the land and the ownership of the Globe was divided in two: 50 percent of the assets were owned by Cuthbert and, Richard Burbage; the other 50 percent stake was apportioned among five other members of the Chamberlain's men, John Heminge, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, Will Kempe, and, Shakespeare himself.
After some initial successes in the early years of the 1590s with the three parts of Henry VI, The Comedy of Errors and (most importantly) Richard III, during the seasons of 1592 and 1593 an outbreak of plague struck London and shuttered its theaters, causing Shakespeare to turn from the playwright's trade to the composition of poetry. It was in 1594 when the theaters of London, including the Theatre and soon the Swan Theatre (1595), reopened that Shakespeare emerged as the powerhouse of a revitalized and extraordinarily vibrant Elizabethan stage world. Five years prior to the Globe's opening, Shakespeare became one of the share-owning partners in a theater company organized under the sponsorship of the Lord Chamberlain, the head of Queen Elizabeth I's royal household. Appearing as "Chamberlain's Men," Shakespeare's acting/production company dominated the London theater scene during both the last decade of Elizabeth reign and, after 1603, under her Jacobean Age successor, James I. Indeed, under James I, Shakespeare's troop was re-dubbed "His Majesty's Servants," its principals enjoying an exalted status as members of James I's royal household. The aura of royal patronage extended to its commercial productions at the Globe, to performance staged at the more intimate Blackfriars Theatre, and, of course to special command performances before the royal court at Whitehall Palace.
II. Structure of the Globe
The theater that Cuthbert Burbage built for the Chamberlain's Men had a total capacity of between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators. Because there was no lighting, all performances at the Globe were conducted, weather permitting, during the day (probably most often in the mid-afternoon span between 2 P.M. and 5 P.M.). Because most of the Globe and all of its stage was open air, acoustics were poor and the actors were compelled by circumstances to shout their lines, stress their enunciation, and engage in exaggerated theatrical gestures. What would seem most striking to a modern (Broadway) theatergoer about the productions staged at the Globe is that they were completely devoid of background scenery. Although costumes and props were utilized, changes of scene in Shakespeare's...
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