The Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s playhouse, the Globe, first opened in 1599. Here, Londoners watched the greatest actors of the day perform the greatest English drama of all time – the plays of Shakespeare.
The Globe Playhouse was a three-storied octagon. Built of sturdy timbers, the exterior walls were coated with sparkling white plaster. The eight sides of the playhouse frame enclosed a brick-paved yard that was open to the skies.
The Interior of the Globe Playhouse
If you could step into the playhouse today, you would find yourself facing the performing area of the Globe. This performing area fills one-fourth of the yard. It consists of a platform stage and, behind the platform, a three-storied structure called the tiring house. This structure has several stages on three different levels.
The most important stage in the performing area is the platform (1), which juts into the yard. Its two ornate pillars support a canopy (2) which, in turn, supports the huts (3) and the playhouse turret (4). Elizabethans refer to the canopy, the huts, and the turret as the “Heavens.” The area underneath the platform, where stage properties are stored, is known as “Hell” (5). In the center of the platform floor is the largest of five trap doors (6). The trap doors are not visible to the audience until they are opened from below.
The three-storied wall of the tiring house acts as a background for the platform. On its first level, the tiring house consists of a curtained inner stage (7), which is flanked at right and at left by doors (8). The inner stage has two trap doors – a floor trap and a ceiling trap. On its second level, the tiring house consists of a curtained balcony stage (9). The balcony stage projects slightly over the platform and is flanked at right and left by bay window stages (10). The curtained music gallery (11), on the third level, may also function as a stage.
The inner stage and the balcony stage are almost identical. When the front curtains of either stage are drawn apart, the stage suggests the interior of a room. The side walls are made of tapestry hangings, which can be changed between scenes, and the rear wall has a door and a window with similar tapestry hangings in between. By replacing the tapestry with hangings made of plain or painted cloth, it is possible for the inner stage to represent the interior of a tent or the corner of a garden. When the plain or painted hangings are used at the rear, they cover the entire wall.
The backstage area of the tiring house with its dressing rooms, storage rooms, and connecting stairways is not visible to the audience.
The Stage In Use
How would the various areas and levels be used in an actual performance? Imagine that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is to be staged:
The platform will be used when the scene takes place outdoors. At various times the platform will represent a street, a public place, an army camp, a battlefield. During these exterior scenes, the curtains of the inner and balcony stages are closed; actors enter and exit the platform through the doors at right and left or through the inner-stage curtains.
Scenes which take place indoors will use the inner stage or the balcony stage. Thus, the curtains of the inner stage will be drawn apart to reveal the interior of a tent or public building; the curtains of the balcony stage will be drawn apart to reveal the interior of a house. On one occasion, a bay window stage will represent an interior. Actors enter and exit the inner and balcony stages through the rear door or through the side hangings.
In Julius Caesar, action on the inner stage is combined with action on the platform. The platform, for example, will represent a garden and the inner stage a secluded corner of that garden. Or, the platform will represent an army camp and the inner stage a tent in that camp. Sometimes an outdoor scene on the platform requires the use of an elevated place, such as a raised pulpit or a hill. The narrow area between the closed balcony curtains and the balcony railing will represent these elevated places. In order to ascend the “pulpit” or “hill,” an actor exits the platform and, by means of the backstage stairs, reappears at the balcony railing in a matter of seconds.