The Theater District
William Shakespeare has stood the test of time so well that even now as we approach the millennium, more than four hundred years after his birth, he is held in the highest regard as the world's greatest poet and playwright, and Stratford-upon-Avon was respectful of him in his own time. Over the span of his fifty two years, from a relatively obscure background, he achieved fame, wealth and status without ever losing touch with his roots in his native Warwickshire. He began and ended his life in Stratford-upon-Avon and although documented evidence about his life is scant - he left no diaries or letters to illuminate his life - scholars over the centuries have pieced together enough for us to gain a good insight into the course of his life, during which he wrote thirty-seven plays, the poems Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Phoenix and The Turtle and The Sonnets.
William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) was born at Stratford-upon-Avon in a house in Henley Street. This is preserved intact. His mother, Mary Arden, was one of the daughters of Robert Arden, a yeoman farmer of Wilmcote: his father, John Shakespeare, was a glover and wool dealer of good standing who held the office of Bailiff of the Borough in 1568. From the age of seven to about 14, he attended Stratford Grammar School receiving an excellent well rounded education. At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway, who was seven years his senior and three months pregnant. She was of 'yeoman' stock - her family owned a farm one mile west of Stratford in Shottery. He endured her until he could stand it no longer and fled to London to become an actor. He then became actor-manager and part-owner in the Blackfriars and afterwards the Globe Theatres. He was a first-rate actor, but it is as a writer of plays that he has achieved lasting world-wide fame. His plays are thought to be the finest ever written in any language.His 37 plays vary in type; historical romances, light, fantastic comedies, some are tragedies, all including the comical and the farcical. He was a shrewd business man, amassing quite a fortune in his time. He returned to Stratford for his latter years where he died at the age of 52 and now lies at rest in his special grave at Holy Trinity Church.
Birthplace: The half-timbered house where William Shakespeare was born in 1564 is Stratford's most cherished historic place. It is the most frequently visited of all the tourist places. Descendants of the dramatist lived there until the nineteenth century, and it has been a place of pilgrimage for over 250 years. Open daily, tours start in The Birthplace which contains an acclaimed exhibition of the poet's life, William Shakespeare: His Life and Background They then carry on through the house, which is furnished in period style with many historic manuscripts and books. Finally the tour ends outside in the celebration garden.
The first permanent theater in England, called "The Theater" was built by James Burbage in 1576 at Southwark on the River Thames. But in 1599, his theater was torn down, and it's wood was used in the construction of Shakespeare's Globe Theater.
The original Globe opened in 1599. It burned down in 1613 and was immediately rebuilt. It was closed by the Puritans in 1642.
In 1970, Sam Wanamaker established the Shakespeare Globe Playhouse Trust. A site of 0.4 hectare was identified that very year on Bankside, but construction work only began in 1987. In 1982, Professor John Orrell provided new evidence on the shape and dimensions of the Globe. His analysis of Wenceslas Hollar's `Long View of London' (1647) - a panorama of London taken from the tower of Southwark Cathedral - proved that the angles and relative heights of the buildings depicted in the drawing were accurate. The next step in collecting evidence came in 1989. The Globe's original foundations were discovered on Bankside, about two hundred yards from the reconstruction site, together with those of the Rose theatre. Significant archaeological evidence was presented to scholars and the Globe's project architects, Pentagram Design - despite the fact that 95% of the site of the original Globe is covered by a listed building (Anchor Terrace, shown in the illustration, now converted into the "Globe Apartments"). Faithful design and the use of traditional materials and techniques have been key to the reconstruction of the Globe. The circular theatre is made up of twenty wooden bays, each three storeys high. These are thatched with Norfolk reed and the walls are made with lime plaster.The stage is roofed and thatched. The back wall (Frons Scenae) is fixed, highly decorated and elaborately carved in an early classical style with three openings. Huge oak pillars, painted to look like marble one on each side of the stage support the Heavens, the coffered and painted canopy over the stage.
The attic contains a huge room that is used both for storage of props and costumes and as a rehearsal and audition space.
The trap in the Heavens ceiling is accessed from the attic. It is used for descents
On the part of the Heavens above the stage proper you can only see part of the circle of the zodiac. The circle is completed in the ceiling of the Lords' Rooms, the balcony at the back of the stage where the richest patrons sat and the musicians played . The balcony was also used as an acting space: Juliet's balcony or the walls of Harfleur. This is why the circle includes it, as planets and constellations were believed to influence our destinies.
The stage roof is made of three parts: the Heavens, a thatched roof, and a small pentice that was added in order to cover the whole of the stage when the pillars were moved backward following the Workshop and Prologue Seasons (1995 and 1996). Under the pentice, the pediment figures Fama, or Fame, blowing her trumpet, or summoning spectators to the performance of famous plays.
The balcony runs across the whole of the Frons Scenae, and is divided into three sections - however there are no inner partitions at the New Globe, although some scholars believe there should be. The central section is usually used by the musicians, while members of the audience sit in the side sections. In the Renaissance, the aristocracy favoured these seats because they could be seen (and heard) as well as see the actors from very close. That is why they were called the Lords' Rooms. In the 20th century, these seats apparently seem less desirable, although the proximity with actors and musicians makes them very exciting. Early Modern patrons probably had to go though the Tiring House to access these seats, but in the new Globe there are also communication doors between the Tiring House (backstage area) and the galleries.
In this scene from the Opening Season's production of Henry V (summer 1997), three members of the English court stood in the balcony for a short while.
The balcony is first and foremost the musicians' room, offering the best acoustics and a good view for cueing. The musicians usually stand in the central section, as in this scene from the 1998 production of As You Like It. Sometimes they play behind the curtains as in the scene where Hymen enters at the end of As You Like It, or in act V of The