Groundlings to Gods: The Music of Shakespeare’s Time

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 — 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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