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 penetrating quality of an actor’s voice to…the state of the weather. We need to know these details, the precise shape of the stage and the auditorium, the quality of the light, the effects on sound and vision of an open-air arena and a crowded auditorium, the interplay between actors performing on a platform in an open yard and the packed mass of thousands of spectators, many of them standing, all in broad daylight. None of these effects, each of which influences the others, can be gauged without a full-scale reconstruction.

What kinds of evidence survive to make possible a full-scale reconstruction? There is no interior view of the first or second Globe; several exterior views are known, differing in important details—so how can the rebuilders hope to succeed? Well, perfectly aware of the difficulties, they have reexamined the evidence, reaching some interesting new conclusions. They looked again at the contract for the Fortune Theatre, dated 1600, one year later than the Globe:

In the contract there is constant if tantalizingly unspecific reference to the Globe as the exact model to be followed in such matters as the staircases, the access passages, the divisions of the galleries, the design of the stage and many other details.

But the Fortune was smaller than the Globe, and square in plan. Second, de Witt’s sketch of the inside of the Swan Theatre (1596), and other views of roughly contemporary theaters, both internal and external, provide general guidelines. Third, the plays known to have been performed at the Globe contain stage directions which indicate what could or could not be done in the theater. The evidence, in short, is rarely as clear-cut as one would like—yet, having to make decisions that can be carried out, the rebuilders have narrowed their options, and have even reversed some of the assumptions of earlier theater historians. For instance, it was once taken for granted that the Globe’s stage faced the afternoon sun:


Only in 1979 was it realized that in fact the Elizabethan designers were careful to make sure the opposite happened…. The Globe’s stage was aligned precisely with its back to the midsummer solstice, so that only a diffuse and shadowed daylight could fill the stage.

Published reports on seminars held on “The Shape of the Globe” (1983) and “The Interior of the Globe” (1987) show that Andrew Gurr, John Orrell, and Theo Crosby (the project architect) collected a splendid team of advisers, including Richard Hosley, John Ronayne, and Glynne Wickham, all specialists in the Elizabethan theater, a team very conscious of “the range of problems which arise from the limited amount of firm information.” The team’s piecing together of the evidence may be illustrated by its account of the Globe’s stage:

The width of the stage, given as 43 ft. at the Fortune, is determined in our plan by a chord across the five bays of the yard, or 42 ft. 8 in. between post centres…. For the primary purpose of overall layout we may assume that its sides ran to the corners of the contingent frame posts, giving a total width of 42 ft. 10 in. (assuming 10-in. posts, as at the Hope, and allowing for their canted position in relation to the stage sides). If the stage reached the middle of the yard (as at the Fortune) its depth to the centres of the frame posts was 27 ft. 9 in., or 27 ft. 2 in. to the downstage corners of the posts that defined both the width of the stage and the place of the frons. Allowing 8 in. for the thickness of the frons and its pilasters, the stage thus described measured 42 ft. 10 in. by 26 ft. 6 in. Theo Crosby has pointed out that this rectangle is exactly a Golden Section.1

Inevitably there are jumps in the argument that cannot be proved, but the project team has tried to bring together all the relevant and semirelevant facts and the outcome looks about right. “Our problem here,” added John Orrell, “is merely whether to accept the gift of the Golden Section, or to turn it down on the slippery ground that it is too sophisticated for Peter Street to have used it.”

Peter Street is a key figure in the story of the Globe—let us leave him till later. As far as the modern reconstruction is concerned, the teams have worked carefully and one can only hope that last-minute discoveries—such as the newly identified foundations of the Globe—will confirm and not contradict their findings. Over and above the possibility of error, which we have to live with if we wish to turn the clock back four hundred years, the rebuilders have also introduced compromises which were “inevitable” (some dictated by building regulations)—a sprinkler system, emergency stairways from the galleries, more than the original “two narrow doors” in case the audience has to leave in a hurry, some electrical wiring, etc.

Good evidence from the Court and university theatres of the seventeenth century shows that the normal allotment of seating space was 18 inches both sideways and fore-and-aft, and in the latter dimension at least we shall have to exceed the original by far.

The average size of a man today “is almost ten per cent greater than the playgoer of Shakespeare’s own time”—for these and other reasons the capacity of the original Globe will be reduced from 3,000 to 1,500 spectators.

Having wobbled on a number of points, the rebuilders are firm about toilets. “Playhouse owners in London did not in fact admit any responsibility for that kind of need until well into the nineteenth century. There may have been buckets in the corridors at the back of the galleries.” A visitor to London noticed such a bucket outside a door at St. Paul’s—“usually a bucket stands by it for passing urine, giving out a pleasant odour to the passersby!”2 The invention of the water closet by Queen Elizabeth’s godson, Sir John Harington, just three years before the first Globe was built, was greeted with derision—so, yes, let us have buckets in the galleries. To preserve public decency they could be labeled “Romeo” and “Juliet.”

The dream of the Globe restored has, not surprisingly, begotten other dreams. Shakespeare’s Globe will not stand alone, it will be the centerpiece of a display of theater history:

Visitors to the complex will be able to follow three stories, each converging on the Globe playhouse from a different direction. They will see a comprehensive exhibition of sixteenth-century Southwark and the City of London…. Secondly they will be able to trace the history of playhouse design, from models of the early playhouses to the details of the Globe itself, and the later hall playhouses which succeeded it. And thirdly they will be able to trace Shakespeare’s own career from Stratford to his becoming a player and poet in London.

Because Shakespeare’s company performed from 1609 in two playhouses, the Globe and the Blackfriars, it was also decided “to include in the project some representation of the Blackfriars side of Shakespeare’s working world.” Even if the Blackfriars, a hall playhouse used by the company in the winter months, has vanished more completely than the Globe, “it happens…that there exists a set of drawings by Inigo Jones for a theatre almost exactly like the Blackfriars, if a little smaller.” Jones’s drawings “provide us with the kind of concrete certainty that all Elizabethan theatre studies unfortunately lack…. Each part of the building is precisely delineated, in both plan and section, interior and exterior.” Although the drawings were only published twenty years ago, they have excited a good deal of interest, and further research has suggested that Jones’s theater was the Cockpit in Drury Lane, “the first hall designed as a rival to the Blackfriars,” dating from 1616.


“Given the fragile and fragmentary nature of much of the evidence about the Globe’s original design,” as Mr. Gurr himself describes it, the Inigo Jones drawings have turned up just in time to provide a usefully solid contrast. It will be possible to walk from the full-scale Inigo Jones theater to the full-scale Globe, the first built from an authentic Jacobean design and the second an imaginative reconstruction, and thus to react to the Globe in a more informed way.

But the permanent exhibition could create problems, for here it will be more difficult to separate fact from fiction. “In 1608 Shakespeare was writing Cymbeline and had not yet begun to think about The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.” Who knows when Shakespeare began to think about a play? And are there not those who believe that Winter’s Tale preceded Cymbeline? “His business in London, the two plays a year that he supplied to the company, the parts he is said to have performed in his own plays,…the few material facts we have about Shakespeare’s working life, all belong here.” The “two plays a year” theory is not a fact, and if one tries to assign the plays to specific years the experts soon disagree. We read that

facsimiles of the “parts” written out for each player to learn his lines from, of the “plot” which hung in the tiring house to show the story-line of each play, playbills…will all be on show…. Costumes, including wigs (black skullcaps of tightly-curled wool for “blackamoors” like Othello, long blond tresses for ladies like Desdemona), riding boots, cloaks, doublets…will accompany this section of the exhibition.

Only one player’s “part” has survived from the period (Edward Alleyn’s as Orlando Furioso), while playbills, wigs, etc. dating back to the age of Shakespeare are also not numerous.

In “Shakespeare’s Globe Reborn,” his very latest statement on the subject, Sam Wanamaker himself declares that “the exhibition will tell the whole story of the Elizabethan theatre honestly, including how much Shakespeare was paid for his plays.”3 Unluckily no one knows how much Shakespeare was paid for his plays, though we know what some of his contemporaries received for theirs (£6 was not unusual around 1600). I have argued recently4 that, because the price of plays fluctuated considerably in Shakespeare’s lifetime, he could dictate his own terms—how many popular writers would refrain from doing so?

To return to Mr. Gurr:

The main string of the exhibition tour begins with an account of some of the chief characters in the story. These will include the players, notably Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Will Kempe, and Edward Alleyn. There will also be the play-house builders, including James Burbage, Philip Henslowe and Peter Street.

Who was Peter Street? It would not be too much to say that this man, referred to by Sir Edmund Chambers in his exhaustive study of The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 4 vols., 1923) simply as “Peter Street, carpenter,” ought to be given a place of honor in any account of the first Globe. He is the man who built the Globe; one year later, in 1600, he built the Fortune Theatre on the model of the Globe—two good reasons, surely, for an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. But no, the Dictionary is silent—so what will the exhibition exhibit?

Fortunately John Orrell has produced a new crumb of information, one that whets the appetite. Peter Street’s name appears in the Works Accounts for Whitehall for 1606–1607, in a context that suggests that he was something more than an ordinary carpenter.

He is recorded as receiving payment for having leased some special equipment to the King’s Works for “boringe the greate Columbes in the Banquetting house.” The Banqueting House in question was the predecessor of the present one, and it contained Doric and Ionic columns in two orders which must have been of unusual size for London in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Not having their own equipment for this kind of work, the Works turned to “Peter Streete for the lone of ye greate pumpaugurs.” He was evidently a builder of some importance.5

Mr. Orrell has shown that the design of the Globe probably involved a good deal of geometry and, of course, there must have been a detailed contract for the Globe, similar to the one for the Fortune—yet he claims that Street was “a substantial man but illiterate, able only to set his mark” to his contract with Henslowe and Alleyn. I am reminded of the argument about John Shakespeare, the dramatist’s father, who kept the accounts for Stratford as one of the two chamberlains but made his mark instead of signing his name. Were Street and John Shakespeare illiterate? It is a possibility, not a certainty.

Peter Street seems to have been a busy man in 1599 and 1600, the years of the Globe and the Fortune. Philip Henslowe made a series of payments to him at this very time “for building of my house upon the Bankside which was goodman Dere’s 1599,” and usually referred to him as “mr” Street. A lawsuit of the same date (John Buckler, yeoman, v. C. Colmer, W. Colmer, R. Norton, Peter Street, carpenter: Req. 2 174/67, in the Public Record Office, London) mentions that “five messuages or tenements” in London were “in the tenure of Peter Street, carpenter, or of his assign or assigns.”

A man who could lend special equipment to the King’s Works, and who built two playhouses and at the same time built a house for Henslowe, rented five messuages…yes, a builder of some importance, and not likely to have been an “unsophisticated” carpenter. It ought to be possible to find out more about him, and this could yet throw new light, directly or indirectly, on the Globe. Here is one other crumb: Peter Street, a joiner of Dutch origin, lived in St. Olave’s, Southwark, in 1583.6 The Globe’s builder, it seems, belonged to London’s Protestant immigrant community, with which Shakespeare and his colleagues had other close links. (Shakespeare himself lodged with a Huguenot family in 1604; his Stratford monument was made by Gheerart Janssen [or Johnson], who had his workshop in faraway Southwark, near the Globe; the portrait of Shakespeare in the first Folio was an engraving by Martin Droeshout, whose family hailed from “Brisselles” in Brabant).

Peter Street represents the dilemma of the Globe’s rebuilders: as the project gathers momentum it turns up new information, some of which is so unexpected that, ideally, one would like more time to digest it. The foundations of the original Globe (not to mention the Rose) have been located just as, 150 yards away, the modern Globe complex begins to rise from the ground—but only a small section of the foundations can be inspected, for the rest lies under Southwark Bridge Road and under Anchor Terrace, a building of the early nineteenth century that is legally protected from destruction. “We need a thorough excavation of as much of the site as can be made available—above all, Anchor Terrace. The preservation of Anchor Terrace has to be a lower priority than this unique opportunity to find out more about the Globe,” Andrew Gurr says,7 and everyone committed to the Globe project agrees. But will excavation be permitted before the new Globe has reached the point of no return?

They are digging in London’s subsoil, they are also digging in London’s record offices—and the results are equally exciting. Newly discovered archive material has given us a clearer understanding of the physical structure and the financing of several Elizabethan theaters—as in Janet S. Loengard’s important paper on the Red Lion Theatre in the year 15678 and, above all, in The Boar’s Head Playhouse9 by Herbert Berry of the University of Saskatchewan, a book that traces the origins of the Boar’s Head as an inn, its conversion into a theater in the 1590s, and the lawsuits that resulted from multiple ownership. Such parallel studies have been invaluable, of course, to students of the Globe.

No one has contributed more than the two authors of Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe to the sense that our knowledge of Elizabethan theaters is advancing at an almost alarming pace. Andrew Gurr’s The Shakespearean Stage brought together and evaluated the work of “all the other scholars who have helped to sharpen the vague lines” of research, and his Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London broke new ground, challenging earlier studies by Alfred Harbage and by Ann Jennalie Cook.10 Harbage had argued that Elizabethan theater audiences came predominantly from the artisan class, while Cook thought that they belonged to the “privileged” classes. Gurr countered that, “by insisting that only the one species of playgoer predominated, she ignored the variety which existed between one playhouse and another and eliminated the wealth of evidence about the changing patterns of playgoing.”

John Orrell, though a professor of English, seems to be equally in his element with a drawing board or wielding a topographical glass: his The Quest for Shakespeare’s Globe, already mentioned, was as compelling as a good detective story, and his The Human Stage: English Theatre Design, 1567–164011 is a masterly synthesis. To some extent Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe repeats these earlier books—for a more popular audience?—and only the final chapter is forward-looking. Here, in an account of the “complete complex,” the reader is transported, like Lady Macbeth, beyond “this ignorant present” and sees “the future in the instant”:

In the complex as it is to be built the Globe itself will stand on a piazza raised well above ground level, so that it is fully visible above the river wall to anyone looking across the river from the north, along the range from Blackfriars Bridge to Southwark Bridge. Positioned opposite the great dome of St. Paul’s, it will in its very different way match it as a great landmark of Thames-side history. Under the piazza will be two spacious areas, artificially lit, which will provide 12,000 square feet of floorspace for the exhibits which tell the story of the Globe…. The rebuilt play-house, and its companion the Inigo Jones playhouse, will be the climax and finale to the static displays which make up the “museum” element in the visit.

It only remains to find another £15 million toward the total cost of £18 million, and Mr. Wanamaker is the wizard who can do it, if anyone can. (He has triumphed over many obstacles, not only financial ones, with the help of many well-wishers, and he promises in the foreword to Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe “to tell the story of this extraordinary display of truly intercontinental cooperation in a later book, when the complex is actually finished and in service.”) The Globe must go forward, even though the foundations of the original Globe may yet throw up surprises when it will be too late to make use of them. The Globe must go forward because there never will be a time when surprises conveniently stop.

Is it too late, though, to ask a question? The capacity of the Globe is to be reduced from 3,000 to 1,500 spectators, and that of the Inigo Jones theater from 600 or 700 to 330. This is because the fire brigade’s license restricts the numbers for public shows. It means, of course, that individual spectators will have more elbow room than in earlier times—but, if so, how will Mr. Gurr observe “the interplay between actors performing on a platform in an open yard and the packed mass of thousands of spectators”? I would have thought that the uncomfortable physical proximity of other spectators was an essential part of Elizabethan playgoing as a shared experience. Those who stood in the yard will have been locked together like recent crowds in Wenceslas Square, and this must partly explain why audiences reacted as they did. “How would it have joyed brave Talbot,” wrote Thomas Nashe in 1592, “to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least, at several times!”

Could there be some performances at the Globe—just now and then—when the spectators are crammed together as they were in Shakespeare’s day, even if fire regulations would require that other parts of the theater be left empty? We want to “reconstruct” the audiences, as well as the theaters. Let the groundlings walk to the Globe from the City, let them stand for two to three hours in a sloping yard, crushed together—and who can doubt that these robust spectators will play a leading part in the afternoon’s entertainment?

This Issue

March 29, 1990