It is generally agreed that April 23 is the birthday of William Shakespeare (we have proof of his baptism on April 26), making today 459 years since his birth.
In honour of the day, I thought I would revisit one of my bucket list items: seeing a Shakespeare play performed at the Globe Theatre in London. In May 2022 I went to see Much Ado About Nothing and it 100% lived up to my expectations. It is one of my favourite comedies, so I knew I would be in for a treat. While the adaptation had a more modern setting, Italy in 1945, it worked really well for the feminist themes that come out with Beatrice while also keeping the references to war relevant.
Facts About the Globe Theatre
Did you know that the current Globe Theatre isn’t the original one? It isn’t even on the original spot of the first theatre. In fact, the original structure was built in 1599 by the company that Shakespeare was part of, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, but burnt down 14 years later. During a performance of Henry VIII cannons were set off using gunpowder (but not cannonballs) and the set quickly caught fire. Fortnuately, no one was harmed during the incident, even though the theatre at the time could host 3,000 people! Eventually, the next iteration of the theatre was built by following the original brick foundation, and it stood until the parliament-issued theatre closures in 1642.
It wouldn’t be until 1997 that the current Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre would open… Only in a slightly different spot: it sits 230 meters from the place of the original theatre. You might be curious about how the Globe Theatre is like now, I can assure you none of the magic is lost! Although the building now meets modern safety requirements, it still looks and feels authentic to the 16th century structure with wood benches, thatched roof (the only one allowed in London since the 1666 great fire), and wooden joints holding it together.
My Experience at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Arriving at the Globe on the south side of the Thames, there was a short lineup before we entered the courtyard where we collected our drinks, snacks, and cushions. I was adamant that if I was going to the Globe I wanted to sit where the upper classes would have, portable cushion and all! The current globe can host about half the number of audience members as during Shakespeare’s time (around 1,4000 people now) so it didn’t seem overcrowded, especially in the gallery seats.
It was very easy to find our way into the theatre and up to our assigned seats. We had bought tickets that were pretty far on the stage-right, but even at an angle we could see everything going on (including watching the crowd on the ground).
Going with seated tickets was absolutely the way to go for a two hour and 45-minute performance. While standing is considerably cheaper than seats (plus an added cost for cushions), it is obviously the more comfortable option.
What’s Different About Seeing a Shakespeare Play at the Globe Theatre?
I have seen several in-person stage adaptations of different Shakespeare plays (both in the US and in Canada), but that means I haven’t seen the Bard’s words performed with an English accent. Perhaps it was because I was so caught up in the performance, or the fact that iambic pentameter and older vocabulary comes across in a certain rhythm anyways, I will admit: I didn’t find too much of a difference. It wasn’t any more difficult to follow or understand each actor.
I was not prepared for audience participation, but it was something that added such a great dynamic to the experience! Because we were seeing the funny Much Ado About Nothing, there was a lot of hooting, hollering, and feet stomping at innuendos as well as contagious “Awwws!” when characters finally got together. Of course, this is how the audience would have engaged with Shakespeare’s work when he was on the stage! Once I realized that this was part of the experience, it was freeing to give into belly laughs and hoots while the actors performed. It was completely different to all the solemn-classic-theatre experiences I’ve had.
What to Wear to the Globe Theatre?
Firstly, it is a pretty casual atmosphere, so don’t feel the need to dress up unless you want to. The most important thing to remember when planning what to wear is that the theater is built in the Playhouse tradition, so the Globe Theatre is an open-air theatre. Yes, you will be surrounded by the curved walls, but there isn’t a roof. Considering the outdoor temperature and weather will be key. If it’s going to be cold and wet, I recommend waterproof gear and layers.
Also, if you decide to go with standing tickets to the ground floor (close to the stage) you might also want to think about comfy shoes as well since you’ll be on your feet for two or more hours.
Our night ended with a quintessential walk from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, across Millennium Bridge, with the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral looming, and back to our hotel. It was an absolutely joyous experience, and I will admit as soon as the play was over I said “I have to come back and see a tragedy!”