Recasting Shakespeare's Stage

Designing a Globe Theatre for the 21st century

John Coyne's New Global Theatre creates a virtual performance where the production occurs on several different stages and is broadcast via monitors to the actors and the audience. (Cheryl Carlin)

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Globe reconstructions work off evidence from seven maps of London in that day, texts from Shakespeare's plays and a site excavation (the original theatre, built in 1599, burned down in 1613 and was restored in the same place). Perhaps the most crucial historical document is a contract to build the Fortune theatre, a contemporaneous playhouse, which instructs builders to copy many of the Globe's dimensions.

Of the Globe's certainties, the stage that jutted out into the crowd was one of its most impressive attributes, says Hildy. "Everywhere you looked there was life, audience, energy." Standing patrons, known as groundlings, surrounded the stage, often shouting at the actors, cracking hazelnut shells—even sitting on stage.

Though Shakespeare's work also appeared at the Rose and Curtain theatres, the Globe hosted most of his famous dramas—including Hamlet, King Lear and MacBeth—which explains part of its lasting allure, Hildy says.

"The sense has always been that you could feel a closer connection to Shakespeare if you could understand how he saw theatre, how he saw his plays staged," he says. "Shakespeare was working during one of the most successful periods that theatre has ever had. There seems to be a relationship between buildings and that success."


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