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20 things you probably didn't know about Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare's Globe is one of London’s most iconic theatres, a stunning recreation of William Shakespeare’s original Bankside theatre that plays host to both his plays and brand new writing. Here are some facts about its history you may not know

By Andrzej Lukowski
1. Shakespeare’s Globe (1997-) has now outlasted the original Globe Theatre (1599-1613) by six years, after the original famously burned down in a fire caused by a cannon effect in a production of ‘Henry VIII’ – never one of Shakespeare’s best plays.

2. A second Globe Theatre, built on the charred rubble of the first, was closed by Cromwell in 1642, but nobody talks about that one much, really.


Image: Early 1990s building works

3. There was no Time Out in Jacobean London, so a big flag told people what was on.

4. Shakespeare’s Globe as we know and love it was the brainchild of American director Sam Wanamaker (Zoë’s dad), who launched the Shakespeare’s Globe Trust in 1970, but died in 1993, before his beloved project was finished.

5. Upon arriving in London in 1949 Wanamaker was shocked that we no longer had a Globe, perhaps because the Yanks have so many: a replica was built for the 1933 Chicago Expo, and there are now at least seven there.


Image: Construction continues

6. Its first ever production (in 1993) was in German, and was performed while the theatre was still being built.

7. Before he became an Oscar-winning superstar, Mark Rylance was the Globe’s first artistic director, running the shop from 1995 to 2005. He starred in its inaugural production, ‘Henry V’.


Image: Sam Wanamaker and Mark Rylance

8. When The Globe opened, a groundling ticket, which lets you stand in the yard, cost £5. It’s been the same price ever since, making it the best-value theatre ticket in London.

9. Contrary to popular belief, the Globe receives no public subsidies at all.

10. Despite its original thatched roof burning down, and the fact that they’ve generally been banned in London since the Great Fire of 1666, the Globe has a special licence to have one anyway.


Image: The 1994 ‘Taming of the Shrew’ cast, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in the front row (!)

11. Seventeen thousand bundles of Norfolk water reed were required to make the roof.

12. The pillars that hold up said roof, each made of a single oak tree, are 28ft tall and weigh three tons.

13. As you might imagine, there were no health and safety regulations in Jacobean London, meaning the current capacity of the Globe (1,500) is half that of the original theatre, despite them being the same size.


Image: A production of ‘Henry V’ in 1997

14. The building consists of 36,000 handmade bricks, 90 tons of lime putty and 180 tons of lime plaster. The lime plaster contains cashmere goat’s hair, which is pretty neat.

15. All the stewards at Shakespeare’s Globe are volunteers. In the last year volunteer stewards contributed 60,763 hours of their time across theatre and education events. Truly, the big society lives on.


Image: Oona Chaplin, Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, 2007 © John Haynes

16. The original Globe almost certainly didn’t have exposed wooden timbers, but the rebuilders thought they looked cool.

17. In Shakespeare’s day a trumpeter, perched on the roof, would hurry latecomers into the theatre when a performance was due to begin. Now they just use a bell.


Image: Zubin Varla and Meow Meow in Emma Rice’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, 2016 © Steve Tanner

18. Though it’s less star-driven than most theatres its size, the Globe has given big breaks to young actors including Gemma Arterton, Richard Madden and Oona Chaplin.

19. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, finished in 2014, was based on a drawing of a seventeenth-century space found lying around Oxford’s Worcester College in the 1960s.


Image: Kurt Egyiawan and Sam Spruell in ‘Othello’, 2017 © Marc Brenner

20. You could run it! (potentially). Current boss Emma Rice is leaving next year (under rather controversial circumstances, but let’s not go into that here) and the artistic director gig is currently open – the deadline for entries is April 24. Who knows, maybe you could be the next Mark Rylance?

Fancy watching a show under the stars?

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
David Jensen

Your guide to open-air theatre in London


Welcome to our round-up of open-air theatre events and venues in town. You'll find London's best outdoor productions at venues as world-famous as Shakespeare's Globe, in parks as pretty as Regent's Park or at festivals as vibrant as the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. 


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