• Email
  • Print

The Globe Theater

In response to:

New Light on the Globe Theater from the May 26, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

I was interested to read Miss Frances Yates’s article “New Light on the Globe Theater” in your issue of 26 May, though astounded that someone of Miss Yates’s erudition should present an argument so undisciplined by factual evidence as that propounded in the article for serious consideration by your readers.

Trouble in this article, as in many other books and essays of this sort, starts when the author seeks to equate a strictly unlocalized and untitled picture (or description, as the case may be) with a single and specific London theater of the period 1576-1642, the Globe, forgetting that there are at least a dozen others to which it might just as easily refer.

Miss Yates, to be sure, does not wholly ignore the fact that Fludd’s engraving in his Ars Memoriae shows a rectangular “stage,” but in seeking to brush this difficulty aside she chooses to overlook the fact that the rectangular “stage” of the picture (always supposing that it is a stage) would accord much better with the square building of the Fortune and Red Bull public playhouses and better still with the rectangular Blackfriars. In setting so much store moreover by the dates 1613-1619 and by James I’s interest in his own acting company in order to secure some initial connection between the engraving and the second Globe, Miss Yates ignores the fact that the Blackfriars had by then eclipsed the Globe as the showpiece of theatrical London in the eyes of fashionable society. Or is it possible that she did not know this?

Another example of Miss Yates’s arbitrary use of evidence occurs on p. 21 (col. 2) where she states that “the stage was at the east end of the theater, like the altar in a church” on the grounds that the placing of the casement window in Fludd’s picture corresponds with Romeo’s association of Juliet with the rising sun: She appears to be unaware of the fact that in contemporary maps and drawings of the Southbank which show the theaters (as Hotson noticed), the tiring house, “shadow,” and hut are invariably depicted in the South-West quadrant.

Miss Yates does me the courtesy of quoting my views on scenic emblems (p. 19, col. 2), but immediately undercuts the compliment by saying, “Naturally, no one has ever seen a visual representation of such walls, battlements or screens.” This is simply not true. Such pictures have long been available to anyone who cared to glance at Balthasar de Beaujoyeux’s Balet Comique de la royne (Paris, 1582), Giuseppe Pavoni’s Diario descritto…. Delle Feste celebrate nella solenissime Nozze dell Serenissimi Sposi, il Gran Duchi di Toscanna (Bologna, 1589) or J. G. Nichols’s The Fishmongers pageant on Lord Mayor’s Day, 1616 devised by Anthony Munday (London, 1844). Nor is this by any means the end of the list of pictorial sources.

Leaving facts and turning to opinion, I would venture to suggest that the “theater” of Fludd’s picture is not a playhouse for stage plays at all (not even Blackfriars), but that of the Court of Chivalry as cited in the title of A. Favynr’s A Theatre of Honour & Knighthood printed in London in 1623. The engraving bears a marked resemblance to several pictures known to me of courtyards prepared for combats at arms, three of which I reproduced in Early English Stages (Vol. I, 2nd Ed. with corrections, 1963)—Figs. 2 and 4 (pp. 31 and 33) and Plate XXIV. The latter accommodates every feature with no difficulty about shifting the side walls or translating straight lines into curved ones. It depicts the Cortile of the Pitti Palace in Florence prepared for festivities which have been fully discussed by Professor A. M. Nagler, “Theater der Medici” Maske und Kothurn, IV (1958), No. 2-3, pp. 168-98 and by J. Jacquot, “Fêtes de Florence (1589): quelques aspects de leur mise en scène,” Theatre Research, III (1961), No. 3, pp. 157-176.

If Fludd’s picture represents any actual Elizabethan or Jacobean building, more particularly an English building, then I would respectfully suggest that the Tiltyard in Whitehall is a better candidate as the draughtsman’s source than any playhouse, public or private. This was certainly sited on an East-West axis: the sovereign’s private apartments abutted on to the Eastern end at first floor level and had direct access onto the balcony overlooking the courtyard, enabling Queen Elizabeth I “to walke out of her chamber into the open terrace.” When she did this in 1572 with the Duke of Montmorency and their entourage to view the tilt at night from the North gallery, the yard and its terraces illuminated by torches was described as “a theatre celestiall.” More pertinent still perhaps is the fact that at another tilt in May 1581 for the French commissioners the challengers (Philip Sidney, Fulke Greville, Lord Windsor, and the Earl of Arundel) regarded and described this same chamber-window from which the Queen viewed the tilt on this occasion as “The Castle or Fortress of Perfect Beauty.” These “Foster Children of Desire” entered the yard from the West end on a “rolling trench” (i.e., a castle made of wooden frames and painted canvas on wheels) and laid siege to the “Fortress” with their consort of music and speech-making boys: On the second day they entered the yard in a chariot. The great central doors at the East and West ends of the yard admitted mounted knights and scenic conveyances; the smaller, flanking doors provided entrances for esquires, armourers, and other attendants.

If Miss Yates, in drawing attention to the curious engraving in Fludd’s Ars Memoriae, has provided historians and critics with a picture of the tiltyard at Whitehall (or possibly that at Greenwich), she is indeed to be thanked; but let us not imagine that it is copied from or illustrates the interior of the Globe.

Glynne Wickham

The Department of Drama

The University



Frances Yates replies:

The trouble with Professor Wickham’s suggestion that the Fludd engraving might represent the tiltyard at Whitehall is that it brushes aside the evidence of the text that Fludd is thinking of a “public theater in which comedies and tragedies are acted.” The term “public theater” at that date applied to the numerous unroofed wooden theaters of London the fashion for which had been set by James Burbage’s original “Theater.” The Blackfriars theater was of a different type. It was an adaptation as a theater of part of an already existing building, formerly the convent of the Dominicans and therefore called Blackfriars. It was an indoor, covered theater, and is not usually classed as a “public theater”; E. K. Chambers regards it as a “private” theater and discusses it in his chapter on private, not public, theaters (Elizabethan Stage, II, chapter XVII). The theater shown by Fludd is not “untitled” as Professor Wickham states; its title is “Theatrum Orbis.” This title does not fit well with the Curtain, the Rose, the Fortune, the Red Bull, the Hope. The Swan is ruled out because its stage wall as shown in the De Witt sketch is unlike the one in Fludd’s theater Obviously the public theater whose name best fits the title of Fludd’s theater is the Globe.

I must emphasize again as I did in the article that the Fludd engraving forms part of a memory system and its interpretation has to be arrived at through the history of the art of memory and its techniques. The theater historian who ignores or does not understand this aspect of it gets into difficulties. Richard Bernheimer, who first published the engraving, fell into error over this. Noticing that Fludd in his very obscure text talks a good deal about the “round” and observing that there is nothing “round” about the theater shown in the engraving, Bernheimer leaped to the conclusion that the engraving bore no relation to the text. He assumed that the German printer had picked up at random some print which he had by him to illustrate Fludd’s peculiar mnemonics. But Fludd’s illustrations do have the closest relation to his memory system. He is talking about a “round” art, based on the heavens, and a “square” art using buildings, and is combining the two. Bernheimer’s error, through which it seems that Fludd’s theater engraving could have no relevance to England, put theater historians off the scent as to the importance of the engraving. Fludd’s “Theater of the World” as a whole is round, or at least round internally; hence a round “real” theater suited him best. The “square” part of the system was represented by the memory rooms, used with the round system. The engraving is a memory room based on a real stage within a round theater. Hence to bring in the square Fortune or rectangular Blackfriars as more suitable is a mistake. Nor is it possible that Fludd was thinking of a tiltyard.

Renaissance astral mnemonics is a very obscure subject but it has rules of its own, within its curious frame of reference, and a definite history. This history is almost entirely unknown though I have endeavored to tackle it, or part of it—for it is a vast subject—in my book on the art of memory. Its most famous product was the Memory Theater of Giulio Camillo which was presented by its author to Francis I, King of France. Fludd is certainly influenced by Camillo’s system and is constructing a Theater memory system similar in principle, though different in detail, to Camillo’s. Though in theory any building can be used in the art of memory, and the Whitehall tiltyard might have been quite suitable for the purpose, the history of the art of memory makes it certain that Fludd’s memory system is a “Theater” system. The analysis of Fludd’s system and its relation to earlier systems forms the chapter in my book preceding the one on the relationship of Fludd’s memory system to a real theater.

Though Professor Wickham’s letter illustrates the mistakes made by a theater historian who is endeavoring to interpret the Fludd engraving without reference to its place in the memory system, yet I think that he has made a valuable and important contribution to the study of the stage wall shown in the engraving. This is through his comparison of the window and gallery shown in the engraving with the descriptions of the window and gallery in the facade of the royal palace of Whitehall which overlooked the tiltyard. He mentions two occasions on which dramatic use was made of that facade and he might have added many more. At the annual Accession Day Tilts in honor of the day of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, the Queen and her ladies were situated in the palace window and adjoining gallery, whence they presided over the tilting, after the manner of ladies in a court of chivalry. The tilts themselves became more and more dramatized into semi-theatrical productions. Professor Wickham’s remark that the window and gallery seen in the Fludd engarving might be of a similar type to those on the first floor of the palace overlooking the tiltyard is extremely interesting, though he has wrongly interpreted his suggestion.

That the engraving labeled as a “public theater in which comedies and tragedies are acted” shows a stage wall which might be rather reminiscent of the wall of Whitehall palace, with its window and gallery on the first floor, does not mean that the engraving is wrongly labeled and that it represents the Whitehall tiltyard. It means that the tiring house wall of a public theater might well have been modeled on Whitehall.

I have argued in my article that the tiring house wall of the Elizabethan stage is derivative from the classical frons scaenae, which represented the facade of a classical palace, but modernized in the direction of palatial mansions of the period, two of which I illustrated in the article for comparison with the stage building. Professor Wickham’s comparison of the Fludd engraving with the descriptions of the Queen’s window and gallery at Whitehall has reminded me that the best modernization of the classical frons scaenae would have been to turn it into something like a contemporary palace and that there would have been a famous model available in Whitehall. Professor Wickham’s suggestion, when rightly interpreted as possibly indicating an influence of Whitehall on the tiring house wall at the Globe, adds to our understanding of the engraving as a theater.

His comparison of the Fludd engraving with the engraving of the Pitti Palace in Florence in 1589 is stylistically very wide of the mark and contradicts and confuses his much more fruitful idea about Whitehall. In thinking that the shape of the building shown in the Italian engraving explains the shape of the building shown in the Fludd engraving he is again thinking purely as a comparative theater historian and without knowledge of the “memory room” technique which affects the Fludd engraving.

To his remark about maps and points of the compass I shall reply only in a general way. I believe that the approach to the Shakespearean theater through the history of Vitruvian influence in England, through the geometry of the classical theater, through symbolic geometry, may be in the end, when more attention has been paid to these matters, actually more accurate, and certainly more illuminating, than the approach through those vague and contradictory maps.

Professor Wickham’s somewhat blunt style of criticism has forced me to play the rather tiresome game of showing that I have heard of Blackfriars, Red Bull, Hope etc., that I know that the Fortune was square, etc., in order to bat back his balls. There is one particularly extraordinary passage in his letter. He quotes my remark “Naturally, no one has ever seen a visual representation of such walls, battlements or scenes” about which he states “This is simply not true,” adding that such pictures have long been available to anyone who cared to glance at, among other visual records, the Beaujoyeulx publication of the Ballet comique de la reine, a ballet produced at the French court in 1581. He has fantastically misunderstood me here. I am talking about light screens covered with canvas and representing battlements or walls which are thought to have been brought onto the stage of English public theaters to mark places. I quote from his book on this, and my statement that no one has seen a visual representation of such screens as actually used on the Elizabethan or Jacobean stage is true. I suggest that Fludd’s secondary theaters may be a visual representation of them. Professor Wickham seems to think that I am denying the existence of any pictorial sources for early European theater history and somehow “undercutting” him by this assertion. I assure him that I had absolutely no intention of casting aspersions on his erudition; on the contrary, I am citing him as an authority; I have enjoyed his book with its many interesting suggestions and wealth of illustration. Perhaps I may mildly mention that I had actually cared to glance at the Ballet comique a good many years before I had the pleasure of seeing some of its illustrations reproduced in his book. There is a longish chapter on that ballet in my book The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century (1947).

I am confirmed in my impression that adverse criticism is good for one. I have carefully picked up all Professor Wickham’s stones and found that I could throw them all away except one which (unknown to him) contained a nugget.

  • Email
  • Print