Groundlings to Gods: The Music of Shakespeare’s Time

in Daily Programme

by Elrik Merlin on Monday, 16 June, 2008

Today, as part of the first in Radio Riel’s SL Shakespeare Summer series, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, produced in conjunction with the Caledon Library, we are presenting a day of music from the time of Shakespeare, and in addition hope to give you a feeling for the world of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, with the help of recreations of the atmosphere of plays and playgoing at the time, and our own recordings of portions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the Radio Riel Players. The programme also forms an ideal backdrop for a visit to the exhibition at the Caledon Library, Victoria City and the Winterfell Palace Gardens which runs to the end of the month.

Though a great deal has been written about the Globe Theatre, closely associated with Shakespeare and built in Southwark in 1599, in fact we can only guess at exactly what it looked like, especially on the inside. One of the few illustrations we have from the period is of the Swan Theatre nearby (see illustration), and as this was used for other purposes as well as the presentation of plays, we cannot be certain that the structure was the same. In both cases there was a proscenium stage jutting out into the centre of the “wooden ‘O’”, but in the case of the Swan this could be at least partially removed and the front may have been mounted on trestles. Was this the case at the Globe?

It seems likely that the Globe was in the form of an octagon about 100ft across, rather than round as is often shown. It could probably have accommodated 3,000 or so playgoers. In the centre was a circular yard or ground, from which the “groundlings”, for the price of a penny, could watch the play and into which the stage jutted out. Around this area were three tiers of seating. The building was in fact quite tall and the topmost seats — the “gods” — would have had quite a distant view of the stage.

It has been suggested (by Dame Frances Yates, in Theatre of the World (1969) among others) that the layout of the Globe was inspired by the principles of the Roman architect Vitruvius and that its builders referred to classical works on the mystically harmonious aspects of architecture in the library of the Queen’s mage, Dr John Dee, at Mortlake. It is further suggested that the layout of the Globe may have inspired the Theatrum Mundi, or Theatre of the World, at the heart of Giordano Bruno’s Art of Memory, and that this latter may in fact give us a clearer picture of the layout of the theatre than anything else.

The original Globe was owned by members of the troupe of players called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (of which Shakespeare was a member), who each held initially about 12.5% shares in the operation, with the exception of Richard and Cuthbert Burbage who owned a controlling interest between them with twice as many shares. Much of the materials for the Globe were drawn from their father’s venture The Theatre in Shoreditch. The original Globe burned down in 1613 but was rebuilt the following year and remained in operation until 1642, when it was closed down by the Puritans.

A modern recreation of the Globe was built nearby and opened in 1997.

From the Library is produced by Radio Riel in conjunction with the Caledon Library in Second Life, to inform, educate and entertain. Today’s programme is presented by Elrik Merlin.

You can listen to the programme now at http://music.radioriel.org — the ideal URL to plug into your home parcel media address in-world — or simply visit any Caledon Library branch in-world and press Play on your embedded music player. (If you want to listen off-world, eg in Winamp or iTunes, and the above address doesn’t work for you, click here.)

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