5 facts about… the Globe Theatre

How much do you know about this iconic Tudor building? 

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From its original construction by William Shakespeare’s theatrical company to today, the history of the Globe Theatre, London, has been unstable. There have been three incarnations of the theatre, with the latest opening in 1997 meaning it still delights audiences in much the same way it did in the time of Shakespeare.

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So let us raise the curtain on our five facts about the ‘wooden O’:

1) The original theatre is only just a Tudor building. It is thought that it was built in 1599, only four years before Elizabeth I died and the Tudor period came to an end. Actor James Burbage had built the cleverly named venue, The Theatre, in 1576 but due to a dispute with the landlord, Giles Allen, it closed 20 years later. While Allen was celebrating Christmas in 1598, William Shakespeare and his company – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – dismantled The Theatre and transported the materials to the new site in Southwark.

2) Flags could be seen hanging outside the Globe to let people know what type of play was being performed. A white flag meant it was a comedy, a red flag was a history and a black flag signified a tragedy.

3) Outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague in the early 17th-century forced the Globe to close, as it was feared that when full – it had a capacity of 3,000 – it would speed up the spread of the disease.

4) In 1613, the first Globe burned down when a prop cannon being used in a performance of Henry VIII set the building alight. It took only two hours for the entire structure to be destroyed but no one was hurt. An account does claim a man’s trousers caught fire but a quick-thinking friend doused him with a flagon of beer. 

5) The second Globe was built the following year on the same site, where it lasted until 1642. Puritans ordered the closure of all theatres so, in 1644, the Globe was torn down and turned into tenement housing, causing Shakespeare to turn in his grave. 

And as an encore…

It isn’t a circle, it’s an icosagon (or 20-sided polygon).

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If you’re inspired to find out more about the Tudors, pick up a copy of issue two – available today in print and digital.