Illustration, Uncategorized: Ground Plan of Globe Theatre

Ground Plan of Globe Theatre

Commentary on Ground Plan of Globe Theatre

  1. Ambrose Mnemopolous Post author

    There are no sketches or clear descriptions of how the Globe Theatre was laid out. The above reconstruction was posited by Dame Frances A. Yates, based on Vitruvian principles and the Renaissance interpretation of these principles.

    The architect of the Globe and former player, James Burbage, was trained as a joiner, and would have encountered Vitruvian design principles through John Dee (whose English-language Preface to Euclid was written to popularize applied mathematics among tradesmen, and which both follows the Vitruvian arts closely and which cites Vitruvius extensively). Burbage would also have known the practical needs of the actor.

    In the design above, the proscenium extends into the orchestra; in the Roman theatre the orchestra would have been reserved for the nobility, though in James Burbage’s theatre, the orchestra was the cheapest seating and was called “the yard.” The twelve points of the inscribed triangles indicate the entrances: seven for the spectators, and five for the actors. The Vitruvian stage wall would have contained three entrances: the “royal door” in the middle, and two smaller entrances flanking it. The classical stage would have included an additional two stage entrances at either side of the proscenium, which Burbage may have omitted, or moved. The “tiring house” — the actors’ backstage area — would sit directly behind the stage, flush against the exterior wall. The cosmological significance of the twelve-point layout — and its concordance with the zodiac — was deliberate.

    To the the Cosmopolitan sensibility of the “Renaissance Man,” the appropriateness of the neo-classical design based on Vitruvius would have been obvious. That Burbage’s theatre was made of wood presents no obstacle to the application of neo-classical design principles, as Vitruvius also described Roman public theatres made of wood. In his Apology for Actors (1612), meant to defend the Elizabethan theatre movement from the assaults of the Puritans, Thomas Heywood makes the straightforward observation:

    Rome was a Metropolis, a place whither all the nations knowne vnder the Sunne, resorted: so is London, and being to receiue all Estates, all Princes, all Nations, therefore to affoord them all choyce of pastimes, sports, and recreations: yet were there Theaters in all the greatest Cities of the world, as we will more largely particularize hereafter.

    In the middle of the 18th Century, the plot of land on which the Globe stood was razed, exposing the foundation. Mrs. Hester Thrale, whose husband cleared the land, described the foundation of the Globe as “hexagonal without and round within.” After the first Globe Theatre burned down in 1613, the second Globe Theatre was erected on the same foundation. In more detail, Mrs. Hester Thrale’s account reads:

    “For a long time, then — or I thought it such — my fate was bound up with the old Globe Theatre, upon the Bankside, Southwark; the alley it had occupied having been purchased and thrown down by Mr. Thrale to make an opening before the windows of our dwelling house. When it lay desolate in a black heap of rubbish, my Mother, one day, in a joke, called it the ruins of Palmyra; and after that they laid it down in a grass plot… But there were really curious remains of the old Globe Playhouse, which though hexagonal in form without was round within.”

    Modern scholarship typically holds that there is only one extant drawing of an Elizabethan public theatre: that of the Swan Theatre, which drawing was made by Johannes de Witt around 1596. This drawing is usually held to be the closest available approximation of what the Globe Theatre looked like. The written account left by de Witt indicates that the Swan bore a likeness to a Classical theatre, such as Vitruvius describes. With the drawing, de Witt writes:

    “Of all the [London] theatres, however, the largest and most distinguished is that whereof the sign is a swan (commonly called the Swan Theatre) since it has space for three thousand persons, and is built of a concrete of flint stones (which greatly abound in Britain) and supported by wooden columns, painted in such excellent imitation of marble that it my deceive even the most prying. Since it’s form seems to approach that of a Roman structure, I have depicted it above.”

    While de Witt’s drawing and written account make clear the likelihood that the Elizabethan Theatres were the only neo-classical structures in England at the time, his drawing is misleading, with respect to what light it may shed on the design of the Globe. The Globe was strictly an actor’s theatre, with a permanent state; the Swan, on the other hand, is known to be the template for the Hope Theatre built in 1614: a theatre with a temporary stage that could be removed to entertain animal fights. Additionally, John Dee’s disciple Robert Fludd provides another contemporary picture of an Elizabethan public theatre, which shows a stage much more in line with what Vitruvius described.

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