Three things to do at Shakespeare’s Globe even when the play’s not the thing

Shakespeare's Globe, London

Shakespeare’s Globe, London

Visiting the Shakespeare’s Globe after teaching the works of the bard to countless high schoolers — some in love with the form, others just tolerant — is a rite of passage, or at least it was for me.  But visiting in winter months when there are no productions means I had to find appreciation for the structure any way I could.  It did, however, turn out to be an easier task than I imagined.

Sign at Globe Theatre, LondonTraveling by boat down the Thames River at sundown only added to the drama of the eventful moment.  There it was, just as I had imagined.  Well, sort of.  It was draped with white lights, the likes of which Shakespeare could never have foreseen. And we formed a group led by a knowledgeable, animated tour guide instead of being seated by ushers. During the off-season (productions run April thru October when weather is more favorable) the non-acting players lead bard lovers like me through the Globe. So, here’s the winter’s tale of what to do in the off-season.

1. Appreciate history.

If you join a tour, and I strongly recommend you do, you’ll sit in the seats where visibility is good and listen to a lovely recount of The Globe evolution.  What you see today is the third iteration of this venerable structure.  Built in 1599 of timber from The TheatreThe Globe was primarily owned by six shareholders.  (Shakespeare was among them but with only a 12.5% stake.)  Alas, the “Wooden O” as it was known, went up in flames when a cannon, fired during a production of Henry VIII, set the wooden beams and thatching on fire.  Rebuilt in 1614, the second Globe was shut down by the Puritans in 1642, and not until 1997 did this third one called Shakespeare’s Globe open for productions — and tours.

Stage of Shakespeare's Globe can serve as an interior or exterior setting with one or two levels.

Stage of Shakespeare’s Globe can serve as an interior or exterior setting with one or two levels.

2.  Pretend you’re a groundling.

During Shakespeare’s time (and maybe after), you could stand in the pit — enduring the elements, of course — for merely a pence.  Called groundlings, these penny payers could enjoy the same comedies, tragedies, and histories seen by wealthier counterparts, but groundlings had to endure long periods of standing snuggly together, often in the rain or blistering heat.  On tour, however, you, too, can stand where groundlings stood and simultaneously look up at the sky and ceiling of the stage.  You can imagine what it would have been like to watch a play standing upright for oh, about three hours or so.  Even today, our guide told us, theatre-goers can opt for groundling experiences.  “Just check the weather forecast,” he warned, “and be prepared with poncho or sunglasses or both.”

"Groundlings" taking pictures during tour of Globe

“Groundlings” taking pictures during tour of Globe

3.  Close in on the stage.

If you come during the season of productions, you may not get up close and personal with the stage since you’ll be in the stands or in the pit watching the action.  But winter tours allow you to stand and look longingly at the stage itself.  You can examine faux-painted columns, hand-painted backgrounds, and a star-studded ceiling.  It’s here that you can lose yourself in the bard’s words, letting your imagination take you back to the time you quoted Macbeth’s soliloquy for senior English:  “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage . . .”

Or not. You may just want to enjoy the structure.

Ceiling of Shakespeare's Globe and glimpse of sky from Wooden O

Ceiling of Shakespeare’s Globe and glimpse of sky from Wooden O

If you’re lucky enough to visit London and Shakespeare’s Globe, don’t strut and fret over the lack of productions in winter.  Take a tour and enjoy the scenery.  Where else can you form a picture in your mind of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet or the tragic events on the Ides of March?

Ah, yes.  The play’s the thing.  But Shakespeare’s Globe is fun to see all on its own.

Shakespeare's Globe at sundown as seen from the Thames River

Shakespeare’s Globe at sundown as seen from the Thames River

For more information:

Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London; box office: +44 (0)20 7401 9919; tickets:

Shakespeare’s Globe Summer Season 2017.

17 thoughts on “Three things to do at Shakespeare’s Globe even when the play’s not the thing

  1. wonderwall360blog

    Interesting to imagine that same audience who watched bear baiting, watched Shakespearean plays when today they seem so high brow. I’m currently hosting a Shakespearean blog party.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You’re right — they do seem pretty highbrow! They probably could have used Cliff’s Notes to better understand the bard! And I don’t know how anyone watched bear baiting! Thanks for taking a look and commenting.

  2. kzmcbride

    That’s fantastic. Thank you so much. I’ll be showing this to my year 8 English class and sharing it in the faculty. We’re a very long way from England and our students, some of the poorest un Australia, may never travel out of their suburb!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Glad you enjoyed the tour of Shakespeare’s Globe even in the off season. You may find some other posts of places we’ve traveled that you can share. Or give the link to the blog to your students. I taught 24 years, and I still find myself wanting to share things with others. Here’s to continued success and good times with your students! Rusha Sams

  3. Gracefully Global

    Wonderful post!! I was so bummed – the last time I was in town I wasn’t able to see a show because I didn’t purchase in advance and it ended up selling out the night I planned to go. Lesson learned: when there’s something you really want to do while traveling, reserve! So it is still an unrealized dream of mine to see a show here. But I had no idea that this iteration of the theatre was only realized in 1997! Incredible! I highly recommend the Shakespeare walking tour of the city. I loved seeing some of his old haunts and learning a bit of history of his time. 🙂

It makes our day to hear from you.