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The Globe Theatre In The Medieval Period English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3062 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Theatre is a type of art that was born of communication and rituals as opposed to various cults, from a certain communication with the Gods, to entertain people in their free time. Also the theatre had other functions such as spiritual purification (catharsis); the family and social education, political education,, of civic debate, philosophical, etc…

They have been designed as temples of art, seeking to remove their audience from the concerns or even any visual echoes of everyday life, and they have been created out of the very texture of that life, out of the raw material of the streets, marketplaces, and factories, foregrounding for the spectators the nontheatrical cultural associations of these locations.

Nevertheless, the main function of the theatre from its early beginnings remains the entertainment.

“The essence of theatre is to bring stories and performances, for one purpose: to amuse the public. 

Reportedly, the theatre brings pleasure; most significantly it brings pleasure for the senses, and brings an advantage to the moral. Does this make the theatre an important part of life???

For the theatre to complete his purpose it needs a physical space.

Theatres have been located in the commercial centers of the cities, in the most elegant residential areas, in the working-class neighborhoods, and in the most disreputable and socially marginal situations.

Normally when we think of theatre we imagine a building that has a architectural structure where theatrical performance takes place within an architectural space designed for that purpose, however form history in the medieval times we can see examples that theatre existed as an important part of the urban life without any specific architectural element being devoted to its exclusive use.¹

Also every component of the theatre requires a structure, the public need theatrical spaces for them to seat down as well as the actors the stage and the backstage spaces and certainly the stage itself needs strong foundations on which to support the arrangement of the theatre. At this point the theatre and the architecture they meet together.

My aim for this essay is to analyse a segment of this large reality that is the theatre, in specific the globe theatre and to do so I must move along the time and space.

In 1597, Cuthbert Burbage had inherited a theatre in London who was the first of its type and called simply the Theatre. By using this building as a base, and adding some materials in the theatre that become the famous Globe Theatre. The Globe, built by carpenter Peter Smith and his staff, was the most magnificent theatre that London had ever seen and was built in 1597 -1598. 

By 1599 the theatre was finished. The globe theatre was also known as the Shakespeare Globe Theatre was the most well-known theatres at that time but most importantly was the playhouse were Shakespeare performed many of his greatest plays. Co-owned by William Shakespeare, Globe has become almost as legendary as the playwright himself.

The rent for the land and ownership of the Globe was divided in two: 50 percent of assets were owned by Cuthbert and Richard Burbage, 50 percent of shares belonged to the other five members: Chamberlain, John Heming, Augustine Phillips Thomas Pope, Kemp will, and, Shakespeare himself. Globe Theatre scheme dominated the London’s theatre throughout the two last decades during the reign of Elizabeth…

The theatre was a very important aspect of Elizabethan life in the medieval ages.

This period of time was difficult and dangerous.

During the 1500s in England a burst of literary accomplishments arose that was never before seen in the history of the theatre. In the new idea of theatres, playwrights lifted the Elizabethan Theatre to new heights. Shakespeare was writing plays about real people in a diversity of real situations.  .

Many of the people at that time were poor occupant farmers that didn’t have much money and they were helped by wealthy landowners. All the streets were covered by all kinds of trash, rats were everywhere even inside the houses tolerated fleas, parasites…

Disease and Death were a part of everyday life. Elizabeth wanted relief from their harsh lives by attending plays and other forms of entertainment, which made the theatre so important to Elizabethan culture. Through their efforts, Shakespeare wrote more sophisticated plays and far entertaining than any plays of the past. As a result of happiness the Audience was demanding more and more plays. At that moment the public shared a great deal of interest in the theatres and playwrights of this time.

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People from all over the city of London would travel to experience the dramatic feel of the Elizabethan Theatre. The Shakespearian theatre was an evolution in the medieval times for the significant locations that the city offered to be utilized as theatrical apace Located near the river Thames, Shakespeare’s playhouse was not in fact in central London but rather an outlying district called Southwark. That playhouses could even exist at all was in part due to its Southwark location; it was outside the jurisdiction of a disapproving central London bureaucracy…

Like everything else in a theatre, there must be much division, and subdivision, even among the dressing rooms- first for the purposes of the safety and fireproof construction, and secondly for the separation and the classification of the performers. The lady or the gentleman who plays the leading parts must have a dressing room exclusively for herself or himself, the room must be capable of division by curtain or otherwise into two parts. ²

In the Shakespeare playhouse unlike today’s spectacles, there were no Backdrops, no lighting, terrible acoustics, watching a play would involve watching the actors exaggerating their movements for patrons in the galleries and shouting their lines to be heard by all. Much of the illusion of a play had to occur in the viewer’s own imagination, the only notable exceptions, being the colourful use of costumes, heralds, banners, the odd big gun, and the dramatic use of the balcony’s and arras.

One other interesting aspect was the spectator. 

The Shakespeare theatre had a total capacity of 2000 and 3000 people. The playhouse was open to everyone

These were people of all categories, but the majority of them were poor people, who paid only one Penny to enter and they could stand in the yard at the centre of the playhouse. People with higher position had the best seats for which they paid two or three Penny. For a little more (roughly two pennies), you could pay to sit in one of the playhouse’s three circular galleries; the gentry with time on their hands and comfort on the minds frequently paying more for the comfort and status, the gallery seats conferred. .

The Globe was almost always filled to its capacity that it was impossible to move when you were inside. In Elizabethan times, people were known not to bathe frequently. Disease was also a major problem the theatres faced. Scarlet fever, tuberculosis and other contagious disease were regularly killing thousands of people in the Elizabethan time period.

Inside the theatre was very different than one might expect.

Most of the audience were seating very close to each other the stench was quite horrendous that’s why all the Holes in the roof over the stage were designed to let more wind in. Without an overhead roof, such a view was exposed, but with the stage set at eye level some 5 feet off the ground, you got the closest view in the house.

Plays in general occurred in the early afternoon and they were lasting from 2 pm until approximately 4 or 5 pm because there was no artificial lighting.

The audience behaviour were very bizarre in theatre and they reacted in different ways as for example throughout plays, audiences ate, drank, spat, argued, booed, fought, and even threw fruit at the actors. So I can conclude with confidence that between the spectators and the actor didn’t exist that “fourth wall “(i.e. the performance). 

Thus they express in visible form with the consent or not their consent. All these gestures and behaviour reflected a lack of culture that the population had in the Middle Ages

Was the design in the way it was because of the kind of people that were going in there??

The poor people didn’t pretend much for the theatre apart of getting entertained, because indeed the theatre was a centre of display and of pleasure

The burn and the rebuild of the globe theatre

In 1613, an immense tragedy happened during a performance of Henry VIII. The thatched roof caught on fire very quickly and burned to the ground. The spectators escaped safely, with some exception of one man who was badly burned.

In the Elizabethan times fire was e real problem because almost every building was constructed by wood and thatch. Oil lamps or candles were used for light and usually they caused lot of accidents. Also The draperies and thatched roofs were very dry and burned like very fast, which was the case in The Globe Theatre. Fire extinguishers or fire departments were a actual difficulty at the time, so the normal practice was to get leather fire buckets, fill them with water, and dump them on the blaze. In 1614 anew Globe Theatre was rebuilt shortly before Shakespeare’s death (referred to as Globe 2).

This time, the construction of the new globe was different. It had a tile roof and most importantly, fire exits. It never stood up to the figure of the original Globe, but remained as a memory of William Shakespeare and his theatre.

In 1642, under a violent actions used by the puritan, British parliaments ordered to stop all the theatrical plays. The Puritans were a religious group and the term came into general usage at the end of the reign of Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary). Puritans meant ‘those who wanted to completely change the Church of England, with its Roman Catholic type of structure and traditions, for another reformed and plain church model’. This was a strict religious mentality which increased in many activities in England and developed superficial behaviour by moving to a stricter cod.

In 1644 the Puritans demolished the globe theatre.

Globe has architecture of its own.

In the medieval period the organization of the theatre was influenced by the Classic Greek and Roman architecture.

The architecture of the famous playhouse was based on the great structures of classic Antiquity with a very similar composition to an amphitheatre. This design had to be a combination of practical, economic and aesthetic arrangement.

The classic Greek and Roman architecture was admired by Elizabeth and you could really see the influence in the great columns framed in the entrances of the Elizabethan houses. The Globe Theatre was framed with massive upright, vertical timbers, which they were supported by diagonal timbers. The wattle walls were daubed with mortar and whitewash was then applied. This process resulted in very typical style of black and white half of the Elizabethan era. With wood architecture two great columns were included in the architecture of the Elizabethan theatres which were called ‘Herculean’ columns or pillars. These columns were painted to resemble marble.

Built to the engineering standards of 1599, the structure of the famous globe theatre was like a large circular amphitheatre, three stories high. The circular structure was covered by a small hatched roof and it gave the globe theatre an appearance of an ancient Greek auditorium where the centre was uncovered. The main stage that was located in the center of the theatre, pushed up next to the interior side, was extended by 5 feet high. At the back of this were the changing rooms for all the actors and for them to get back into the stage, they would come out from the two side doors at the stage level. Above this stage was a balcony, flanked by two further balconies serving as playhouse boxes. On the third level there was a small structure supported by columns, were all the announcements were made and the playhouse’s flag would often fly, advertising plays there were currently being performed.

Again like Greek auditorium three rows of seating that formed circular bands by wrapping around the interior spaces of the playhouse. These galleries cost more, but they offered a better comfort of seating. Those that were out in the open courtyard had to stand in the rain or shine through what could be a three hour performance,

All seats were of approximately equal importance, they have been cited as a model of democratic seating and the stage was provided with multiple perspectives to make each of the spectators feel as important as a prince. ³


The dimensions of the original Globe 

(based on John Orel’s The Quest for Shakespeare’s Globe) 

• Diameter: 100 ft surface to surface / 99 ft centre to centre 

• Yard: 70 ft between post centers / 69 ft surface to surface 

• Stage: 49 ft 6 inches across 

• Stage height: 5 feet. 

• Gallery Depth: 15 ft 6 inches overall / 15 ft 6 inches between post centers 

• Overall height: 36 ft. 6 in. 

• Overall heights from floor to floor: 15 ft. 6 in., 11 ft. 3 in. and 9 ft. 9 in. to the plates. 

• Balcony floor: 18 ft. 6 in. above the yard, 13 ft 6 in. above stage 

• Front Scene doors: 11 feet tall 

• Heavens ceiling height: 26 ft 9 inches (to the height of the upper gallery floor) 

The dimensions of the new Globe 

• 33 ft high to the eaves, 45 ft overall 

• 100 ft diameter 

• 300 ft circumference 

• 20 sections 

• capacity: 1600, including 700 standing places 

Miller-Schultz, Chantal. SHAKESPEARE. Ed. Lyn Holman.20 Mar. 2000. 22

Jan. 2004.

The previous treatment between the public and the performance played in this theatre seemed a true antithesis.

Now let analyze the internal structure in relation with public. 

Can we make such an association? 

Even if one regards the theatre building in strictly functional terms, as a structure for bringing together an audience and a performance, one can still acknowledge an important practical function for exterior decoration and ornamentation.

The interior decoration naturally echoed the richness of the surrounding palace, was often on of the most elaborately decorated parts of a princely dwelling. The internal side has been one of the buildings richer sources of signification, but the interior of the globe was really simple.

Despite the fact that the Shakespeare globe interior was very poor it had some decorative elements, like symbolic figure representing figures of immortality, dignity and reason etc also some small tricks like painting the columns so they looked like they were made out of marble because they wanted a utilitarian design, they wanted the theatre to belong to people. The type of interior decoration, its lavishness, and its style will clearly contribute greatly to determining whether an audience member feels comfortable or out of place in a particular theatre.

They like the theatre belonged to the public and probably thought that this simple structure in which you can enter with little money was the most suitable model of a building that would establish for the first time the theatre.

If theatres would be a luxury then the noble class of people will continue to follow the plays in their expensive salons but the main objective was the Shakespeare Theatre to take a massive dissemination.


However the theatre needed an independent building from the politics of the time that had a more negative than positive impact 

Hence an intellectual and independent strength of conception was needed to help the masses so that they could move forward get into the renaissance period.

For a moment I think why the structure of the globe theatre was designed in the way it was, the answers will be that this form with no specific architectural elements was a consequence of the actual period of time, the medieval time. 

This dark mental and intellectual period didn’t have a good influence to bring the theatre to life, even the external appearance of this construction could show this. The architecture of the theatre had to adapt with the medieval urban context.

Theatre has been seen in the streets, in parks and I woodlands, in the factories and warehouses, and in all manner of public and private buildings.

As a result the design of the globe theatre had to adapt with the London’s medieval neighbourhood the public houses and also with the hostels that were around at that time.

Theatre has traditionally presented itself as a special experience set apart from everyday life, as experience not restricted to the actual performance but the extending to the entire event structure has often carried forward that image by displaying the symbols of elegance, pleasure, and high culture.

Indeed Globe Theatre and several other theatres of the time were the first places that were created exclusively for this purpose and these buildings credited the first distinguishing features of their gender and helped for the development of the world with the arriving of Renaissance.

Theatres have been designed to accommodate entire communities or single spectators, to surround their audience with Spartan simplicity or with the greatest luxury the society could afford, to stress the essential equality of all the audience members or to reflect in the astonishing detail the most subtle differences in the social status.

But this week move to consider notions of health and how concepts of the healthy body are constructed and expressed through architectural types

The link between the function and the architecture


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