From the Library: Music for Shakespeare: Act II

Today we are pre­sent­ing a day of music writ­ten to accom­pa­ny, or inspired by, the plays and poet­ry of William Shake­speare, born this month in 1564. In addi­tion we 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. This pro­gramme was orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled for April 10 but was unable to be broad­cast due to tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties.

The pro­gramme includes music from the Eliz­a­bethan peri­od to the present, with a wealth of clas­si­cal mate­r­i­al as well as Ear­ly Music (some of it per­formed by the play­ers and musi­cians of the recon­struct­ed Shake­speare’s Globe The­atre in Bank­side, Lon­don) and some mod­ern exam­ples such as the Third Ear Band’s music for Polan­ski’s film of Mac­beth.

Though a great deal has been writ­ten about the orig­i­nal 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, 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 a rather 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. Alchemist and writer Robert Fludd gives us the above illus­tra­tion of the The­atrum Mun­di.

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 remains of which were dis­cov­ered recent­ly, appro­pri­ate­ly enough dur­ing the build­ing work for a new the­atre. 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. The main image at the top of this arti­cle, tak­en by the author, shows the stage of the Globe in Bank­side.

Then our play’s begun
When we are borne, and to the world first enter,
And all find exits when their parts are done.
If then the world a the­atre present,
As by the round­nesse it appears most fit,
Built with starre gal­leries of hye ascent,
In which Jehove doth as spec­ta­tor sit,
And chief deter­min­er to applaud the best,
And their endeav­ours crowne with more than mer­it;
but by their evil actions doomes the rest
To end dis­trac’t, whilst oth­ers praise inher­it;
He that denys then the­atres should be
He may as well deny a world to me.”
—Thomas Hey­wood, An Apol­o­gy to Actors (1612)

From the Library is pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Alexan­dri­an Free Library Con­sor­tium of Sec­ond Life. You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme now at — or click here to link straight to your play­er if your brows­er is set up to do so. Today’s pro­gramme is pre­sent­ed by Elrik Mer­lin.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Alexan­dri­an Free Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Con­sor­tium mem­bers in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Alexan­dri­an Free Library web­site, or one of their branch­es in-world.

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