Shakespeare’s Globe is a modern reconstruction of the sixteenth-century open-air theatre where many of William Shakespeare’s iconic plays were staged. First opened in 1997, Shakespeare’s Globe rises today only several hundred feet from where the original playhouse once stood near the south bank of the River Thames. Live performances of Shakespeare’s plays run regularly throughout the year, and the venue routinely hosts a variety of special events, but most guests choose to experience Shakespeare’s Globe via the Shakespeare’s Globe Story & Tour: a two-hour guided tour that takes visitors behind the scenes of this reimagined landmark.
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History of Shakespeare’s Globe
The history of the contemporary Shakespeare’s Globe is inextricable from the history of two previous structures that bore a similar name on this location near the southern bank of the River Thames. In 1599, the first Globe Theatre was constructed for a theatre-company partly owned by Shakespeare known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Many of Shakespeare’s most significant plays were first performed here, and it also staged productions penned by other legendary playwrights like Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton.
In 1613, this Globe burned to the ground when its thatched roof caught on fire during a performance of Henry VIII. A year later, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men built a second Globe on the same spot, and this theatre stood until 1642, when it was shut down by order of Parliament. During the 1970s, the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker—who had moved to England some 20 years earlier to escape persecution for his communist beliefs—began a campaign to build a new, modern Globe Theatre in the vicinity of the original structures. Though Wanamaker would die in 1993, his vision became reality in 1997 when the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe opened to the public. Shakespeare’s Globe was primarily designed to reflect the layout of the 1599 Globe, but it does incorporate some elements of the 1614 Globe, too.
Shakespeare’s Globe Highlights
The majority of visitors to Shakespeare’s Globe experience the attraction as part of the well-regarded Shakespeare’s Globe Story & Tour. This informative guided tour runs about two hours, and along the way you’ll learn all about the life and times of William Shakespeare: how his Globe Theatre was constructed, burned to the ground, and built again; the many challenges encountered by Shakespeare and his team as they strove to present their productions amidst political turmoil and plagues; and the actual nuts-and-bolts details of staging a play in the first couple decades of the seventeenth century.
The guided tour itself lasts for about 50 minutes, which allows visitors plenty of time to peruse the Shakespeare’s Globe exhibition space. Recently redesigned, these galleries are full of interactive displays that tell the history of some of the theatre’s most memorable performances. In particular, one of the most popular exhibits here even lets you play with a host of costumes, props, and theatre tools as if you yourself were preparing to perform on the famous stage later that very night!
The theatre itself is an architectural marvel and you’ll for sure want to have your camera ready as you explore its hallowed spaces (though be mindful that at certain moments during the tour you’ll be asked to refrain from photography, and video recordings are always strictly prohibited). The standing-room-only area at the foot of the stage provides some of the most powerful vantagepoints of the space, and you’ll definitely want to note the site’s thatched roof: it’s the only such roof in all of London, as thatched roofs have been illegal here since the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed much of the city. Shakespeare’s Globe received a special dispensation to feature this authentic detail.
More to See and Do at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Whether you’re here for a tour or planning on catching a live performance, there are several more key things worth knowing in advance of your visit to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
•In addition to its most popular, primary experience—Shakespeare’s Globe Story & Tour—the attraction does offer numerous other guided tours catering to a variety of specific themes and subjects (like sword fighting, ghosts, and playscripts). Check the theatre’s official website for more details.
•Those wanting to make the most of their visit to Shakespeare’s Globe—or just in the mood for a locally sourced meal or cocktail in a pleasant setting—would be well-served to stop in at Swan Bar & Restaurant. Swan Bar & Restaurant has a seasonal menu, serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, and overlooks the River Thames with great views of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
•The Globe is an open-air theatre space, just as it was during Shakespeare’s time. This means, regardless of whether you’re here for a tour or a show, you’ll want to keep an eye on the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
•Shakespeare’s Globe also has its very own gift shop, where you’ll encounter a great selection of Bard-related books, clothes, prints, accessories, home-décor items, and more.
Why Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Should Be on Your Must-See List
Perhaps no English-language literary figure looms as large across the past few centuries as William Shakespeare—and nowhere was as central to his art, career, craft, and legend as his beloved Globe Theatre. This painstakingly recreated facility lets visitors feel as though they’re passing through the exact same spaces as those once graced by the fabled playwright, which makes for a truly one-of-a-kind experience you can’t get anywhere else in the world.