The Tempest: The Elizabethan Theatre

Today, as part of the final week in Radio Riel’s SL Shake­speare Sum­mer series, The Tem­pest, 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.

We will also be pre­sent­ing an excel­lent record­ed per­for­mance of The Tem­pest, star­ring Ian McK­ellen and Emil­ia Fox and a full cast.

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, 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. 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.

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)

SL Shake­speare Sum­mer is a spe­cial pre­sen­ta­tion of Radio Riel, Riel Events and the Cale­don Library and includes three series of events in June, July and August, each based around one of Shake­speare’s plays, with an asso­ci­at­ed Library exhi­bi­tion, dai­ly spe­cial pro­gram­ming and cul­mi­nat­ing in a grand ball. This month the theme is The Tem­pest. Click here for full details of the events pro­gramme for this week.
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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