The unusual history of the Globe Theatre
It may not be obvious as you study the Globe Theatre from Bankside, but this landmark attraction along the South Bank is actually the fourth reincarnation of what was Shakespeare’s original theatre.
To start from the beginning we look back to the late 1500’s. London’s first purpose built theatre was on Curtain Road in Shoreditch, aptly named “The Theatre”. This was where Shakespeare started his writing career in earnest and where his earlier plays were performed.
It is understood that Shakespeare and his company ran into trouble with their landlord and were forced out of the The Theatre, however it was when one of the group spotted a loop hole in their contract and they discovered they actually owned the wooden structure that a plan then emerged. Over the Christmas holidays while the landlord was away Shakespeare and his company literally stole the theatre over the course of four nights and when the weather improved and the river Thames thawed they floated the timbers across the river on barges, over to the Las Vegas of London, Bankside, on the south side of the river.
It took seven months to rebuild The Theatre, which was renamed The Globe, presumably so no one would notice they’d stolen it. The Globe ran from 1599 until 1613 until an incident involving gun powder and some rather over-zealous special effects caused the theatre to burn down during a performance of Henry VIII.
The replacement Globe was rebuilt within a year, however this time with a tiled rather than thatched roof. Although Shakespeare died in 1616 the Globe continued without him until the 1640’s when the puritans took hold and all the theatres were pulled down.
It wasn’t until the 1940’s when Sam Wannamaker, the American actor and visionary came to London and was shocked to find nothing but a small plaque to commemorate Shakespeare’s work in London. He campaigned for decades to rebuild the Globe, which finally began in the early 1990’s. Finally, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre that we know today, the fourth of its kind, opened in 1997, half a century after Wannamaker’s campaign started.