Do you have to be a Shakespeare fan to enjoy what I’m about to propose? That is the question. I think not. And I’ll tell you why.
Posted by Pinky
Let’s face it. Not everyone’s into literature or the theatre. Utter the word “Shakespeare” and you’ll probably get a fair share of eyes glazing over or hushed declarations that it just isn’t for them.
But when you find yourself in the land of the greatest writer of the English language the world has ever known, how can you not indulge in even just a bit of Shakespeare mania?
If watching a play threatens to be too big a commitment, here’s an idea that’s easy, quick, and painless.
A tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Everyone Loves a Good Story
I love a good story, and frankly, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.
And the stories associated with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre come in many levels.
First, you’ve got stories surrounding William Shakespeare himself. (Read about our visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace and hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon.)
Then there are the stories about Tudor or Elizabethan England. The actors, theatre owners, the audience. Or even the other playwrights, Shakespeare’s competitors. He wasn’t the only game in town, after all.
Then you’ve got stories about the theatre itself, particularly of the person most responsible for getting this theatre rebuilt: American actor Sam Wanamaker, who the adjacent Playhouse was named after.
Though I’d seen him on TV when I was young, I really only got to know about Wanamaker, his decision to stay in Britain at the height of McCarthyism in the United States in the 1950s, and his eventual involvement in the new Globe Theatre after watching the original UK version of Who Do You Think You Are, a fascinating show that delves into the genealogy of guest celebrities. His daughter, the actress Zoë Wanamaker, was a subject in one episode.
I have to say that not all of these stories were covered in depth by the tour. But I’m all for getting a bit of background about a place prior to a visit anyway.
Of Elizabethan Sensibilities
True, this building is a replica and isn’t actually built on the original site. In fact, its reconstruction was based primarily on printed panoramas showing the theatre’s exterior, building contracts, a sketch of the Swan theatre, and written accounts describing the theatre’s interiors, all of which gave some idea of what the original may have looked like.
Recent excavations have also unearthed old theatres, including the original Globe, and have revealed valuable details about Elizabethan playhouses. For one, their shape was not entirely circular. Rather, they were polygonal or had many sides.
Nevertheless, the Globe is as accurate as one can get of theatres during Shakespeare’s time, with the added benefit of adhering to today’s building safety codes.
One tidbit I found most curious, however, was how challenging the actual job of delivering a performance proved to be. The actors had to raise their voices, enunciate their words like crazy, and exaggerate their actions in order to compete with the noise and rowdiness of the Elizabethan audience.
The things that went on there were such that one ought to wonder, why did they even bother to go to the theatre at all?
That the original structure was not designed to help overcome this overwhelming challenge to be heard is an understatement.
Regardless, the biggest value the Globe Theatre and its Exhibition have for me personally is not as much its being a fine example of an Elizabethan playhouse than its ability to convey aspects of Elizabethan society.
It is an invaluable slice of English history.
A Southwark Treat
The Shard, the Tate Modern, and the Millennium Bridge are close by, both already big enough reasons to visit the south Bankside area. St Paul’s Cathedral lies just across on the northern side of the River Thames as well.
But the biggest treat for me after a morning tour of the Globe is a trip to Borough Market, less than 10 minutes away on foot.
The best time to get there has to be before the mad rush of the noontime crowd. Preferably by 11 to 11.30am.
Believe me, you’d want to get there ahead of everybody else. Specially on a Saturday, which is the best day to visit. (Read about my take on Borough Market.)
Best Time to Visit the Globe
Definitely morning, preferably for the 9.30am tour. This is to avoid the crowds, for one. Another reason is to get a head start on the many other things you can do within the area.
Shakespeare’s Globe is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Tours begin every 15-30 minutes during opening hours and last approximately 30 to 40 minutes. The Exhibition takes approximately 45 minutes to view, so allot roughly an hour and a half total for your visit. Tickets can be purchased there directly.
Just take note that during performances and rehearsals, specially in the summer season, tours will not be possible, so do check the Globe’s calendar before going.
If a tour of the Globe theatre and its exhibitions leave you wanting for more, why not explore the city by following in the footsteps of Shakespeare?
One company whose tours we’ve tried is London Walks, which now offers a walking tour of Shakespeare’s London combined with that of the most influential writer of the Victorian period, Charles Dickens.
There are, of course, other excellent guides you can try. The Globe Theatre itself offers a 40-minute Bankside Tour that departs every 30 minutes.
And why not end your day with a few drinks at The George Inn, a short walk from Borough Market and a mere 10 minutes away from the Globe? It is the city’s last remaining galleried inn whose yard served as a theatre.
Join the likes of Shakespeare, who lived in the area, and Dickens, both believed to have most likely had their share of “cakes and ale” at this very same pub.
So Shakespeare fan or not, you’ve got yourself an entire day filled with things quintessentially British that’ll hopefully leave you only rather squiffy than absolutely trollied.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”
– As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
Street art, London-style. The now-iconic Shakespeare mural by Australian artist Jimmy C (James Cochran), painted in 2016 to commemorate the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death, and music from fire tuba busker Christopher Werkowicz on Clink Street near The Globe Theatre.