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.
Traveling 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 Theatre, The 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.
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.”
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.
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?
For more information:
Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London; box office: +44 (0)20 7401 9919; tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org