The Dream of the Globe

Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe

by Andrew Gurr, by John Orrell, foreword by Sam Wanamaker
Routledge, 197 pp., $25.00

Thomas Browne, a theater lover who may well have watched plays at the second Globe, would have been an ideal partner for Sam Wanamaker, the well-known actor and producer. Browne claimed that some natural processes could be reversed—“This is made good by experience, which can from the ashes of a plant revive the plant, and from its cinders recall it into its stalk and leaves again.” Entreated by an admirer, Dr. Henry Power, to perform this miracle, Browne replied evasively—but some years later he was at it again. “What song the sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture….”

Propelled by the same fascination with things gone beyond recall, Mr. Wanamaker founded the Globe Play-house Trust to raise money for this project, surrounded himself with experts, the best in the world—including Andrew Gurr of Reading University, author of The Shakespearean Stage, and John Orrell, a Shakespeare scholar now at the University of Alberta. After years of preliminary seminars, monographs, etc., a near miracle is rising in the streets of London. What had seemed for so long an impossible dream is now—give or take a few years, and £18 million—very close to a reality.

The dream of a reconstructed Globe, Mr. Wanamaker reminds us, is nearly two hundred years old. Models and full-size theaters built more or less in imitation of the Globe have mushroomed, particularly in the last thirty years, and have contributed to the resolve to make a new start and, as far as possible, to build the definitive Globe—where it ought to be, on the Bankside in South-wark, directly across the Thames from the city of London.

The “first Globe” stood there from 1599 until 1613, owned by Richard Burbage, William Shakespeare, and their “fellows,” the leading actors in the Lord Chamberlain’s company. In those few years, perhaps the most illustrious in theatrical history, Londoners crossed the river to see Shakespeare’s greatest plays—Hamlet (“the darling of the English audience,” a favorite from the very beginning), Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure. In addition, the first Globe presented Volpone, The Alchemist, The Revenger’s Tragedy, and many more of the best plays of the period. When it was destroyed by fire, the actors raised £1,400 to have it rebuilt on the same foundations, a play-house that put all others in the shade, “the fairest that ever was in England.” The second Globe lasted from 1614 to 1644.

Why bother to rebuild the Globe? Andrew Gurr explains that actors and theater specialists want to know “the precise shape of that playhouse” and “how Shakespeare expected his plays to be performed there”:

That is the chief reason for trying to reconstruct Shakespeare’s Globe. Paper designs and models are some help, but not enough. A play in performance is a dynamic event, the product of a huge complex of details, from the …

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