London – The First Theatres – 1613 – The Globe

This article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery – it covers the history of London’s theatres from the 1100s through to the 1800s.

London – The First Theatres – 1613 – The Globe

The Globe Theatre was the scene of Shakespeare’s exertions as an actor, and here many of his best pieces were first performed. The Globe was burnt down on St. Peter’s day, the 29th of June, 1613. The fire originated, according to Winwood, with the mimic discharges in Shakespeare’s play of Henry VIII, when the rushes of the roof caught fire; and he adds, that the attention of the audience was so much engaged with the actors, that they did not notice it. Fortunately, however, there were few or no accidents, a circumstance alluded to in an old ballad of the time, of which the following is the first stanza.

“Now sit thee down, Melpomene,
Wrapt in a sea coal robe;
And tell the doleful tragedie
That late was play’d at Globe:

For noe man that can singe and say e,
Was scar’d on St. Peter’s day.
Oh sorrow, pittifull sorrow; and yett all this
is true.”

The theatre was rebuilt in the following year, in so superior a manner, that Taylor, in his epigram, calls it a stately theatre:

“As gold is better that’s in fire tried,
So is the Bankside Globe, that late was burn’d;
For where before it had a thatched hide,
Now to a stately theatre is turn’d.”

Although the interior arrangements of the theatre in the time of Shakespeare did not, in their leading features, differ from those observed at the present day, yet the construction was rude and inconvenient; galleries were formed on three sides of the house, and beneath them were rooms, which were equivalent to our boxes: and there is reason to believe they were occasionally the property of individuals, and not let commonly. The stage was divided into two parts, namely, an upper and a lower stage; an advantage which was particularly felt in representing the playscene in the tragedy of Hamlet. The musicians did not intervene between the pit and the stage, but were stationed in an elevated balcony, nearly occupying that part of the house now denominated the upper stagebox. At the private theatres seats were placed on the stage for critics and amateurs, a privilege by which Dekker says,

“you have a signed patent to engross the whole commodity of censure; may lawfully presume to be a guider and stand at the helm to steer the passage of scenes.”

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Further reading and external links

William Shakespeare on Wikipedia

The Globe Theatre on Wikipedia

Sholto and Rueben Percy