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There is any number of quotes with which an article on anything Shakespearean could be written, but none does “the Bard” justice like a quote actually uttered in the theatre, and nowhere more so than at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. The building is an impressive attempt at Elizabethan authenticity, and the actors do a great job of interacting with the audience, as well as producing top-notch theatre.
Although it is not the original building, it is as careful a reproduction as can be built, based on a Dutchman’s surviving drawing of the style. People have a choice of vantage points for the stage: the cheap-seats are not seats at all, but are instead a standing area on the ground below the stage (originally for people commonly called ‘groundlings’ in Shakespeare’s time); cushions are available to rent for the well-worn wooden benches on the three levels surrounding the stage.
According to historical accounts, each section of the theatre required a fee: one would pay a penny into an agent’s box; one would again pay into a box to get to the seats, and again to get into the next level. Once the play began, these agents would return the boxes to an office, hence, the term ‘box office.’
The current Globe was built on the site of two previous versions on the south bank of the River Thames. One burned down after an accident with a cannon-ball; the second was razed by the Puritan Cromwell. The original theatre preceding those two had been located on the north bank until the land lease expired and the company was evicted.
‘Shakespeare’s Globe,’ as it is known now, sits in a pretty area overlooking the river. The cylindrical building has a white and wood-beamed Tudor façade, and the food vendors outside help provide an idea of what the ‘arts scene’ might have resembled at the height of the theatre’s popularity.
But “the play’s the thing,” and the performances staged here are some of the best in the world. The actors are experienced Thespians, the stage itself, as well as the building, provide the authentic setting, and the writing is already quite well known.
If London is the historical capital of Western civilization, then Shakespeare’s Globe is the capital of Western theatre. To attend a performance here is to participate in one of Western culture’s greatest and oldest traditions, and to treat oneself to the height of culture and entertainment.
The 2012 season has just been announced, and, as is the norm, it promises some of the most popular and famous plays written: ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ’Twelfth Night,’ and ‘As You Like It,’ for the laughs; ‘Richard III,’ ’Henry V,’ and, of course, ‘Hamlet,’ for the drama. Often, other playwrights are included in the season, but this year it really is ‘Shakespeare’s Globe.’