Literature Studies Site

Shakespeare’s Theatre Web Path


This WebPath uses as its foundation the excellent website on the development of the new Globe Theatre in London created by Reading University. It covers in great detail the researches done to create the new Globe, and therefore gives us a great deal of information about Shakespeare's original theatre.

From this page follow the link to London Playhouses in the 16th and 17th century, and look at the number and range of theatres in Elizabethan London
Go back, and click the Illustrations showing contemporary London, the Globe Theatre, and other London Playhouses link. Make notes on the style and construction of the theatres that you see.
Go back to the original page (use the first link arrow) and click the A general introduction button. Read through the page about the development of the New Globe Theatre, and follow the links to the stage, etc, which provide information about the construction of the original theatre.

If you don’t find it by following links on the Reading site, click the link on the left and you will find a page of photographs of the new theatre's opening. It gives you a number of detailed views of the theatre.

When you have researched the materials here, hit the Research link at the top of the page, then follow the arrow to Articles on Shakespeare and the Globe. From the following page, take the Alan Dessen: Plenary Lecture at the Within this Wooden 'O' Conference route. The lecture, parts 1 and 2, are worth reading in full, but make sure you read paragraphs 5-7 ("To take full advantage of the Globe…the personnel necessary for a given scene.") and paragraphs 17-19 ("Such early entrances can also be found in comedy…obvious today can be unlearned.") of part 1 and the opening of part 2 up to "images or imagery offered to the playgoer?"

Finally, read carefully the opening Chorus speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, printed below. Note the reference to "the wooden O", the image used in Alan Dessen’s paper you have just read.

Chorus: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

Task One

In what ways does the opening Chorus speech from Henry V reflect what you have learned about the Elizabethan theatre?

Task Two

(This question should be adapted according to which Shakespeare play you are studying)
Using what you have learned about the Elizabethan Theatre, suggest ways in which Act XX scene vv of A Shakespeare Play might have been staged in his time.