Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre Actors and Performances

William Shakespeare was an actor and co-owner at the Globe Theatre. “Julius Caesar” was likely the first of his plays performed in the new venue.

The famous playhouse which opened in 1599 is often referred to as the Shakespeare Globe Theatre.

Shakespeare and The Globe Theatre Investment

Located near the Thames River in Southbank, The Globe Theatre was built out of central London to avoid bureaucratic disapproval. The motto “Totus mundus agit histrionem” (the whole world is a playhouse) was inscribed above its entrance. For effect, a crest showing Hercules with the globe on his shoulders was added. The motto was later echoed in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

The three-stories-high structure was financed by members of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men acting company. Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert each held 25% while William Shakespeare and three others each held 12 ½%.

The Globe Theatre investments proved to be beneficial to all concerned. It earned money through performances of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men as well as rental to other companies. The playhouse could accommodate 3,000 patrons. Members of England’s nobility and gentry were seated in balconies or galleries. The commoners watched performances from the courtyard.

Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at The Globe Theatre 1599

William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre were synonymous with the best entertainment of the Elizabethan Era. The first play by the Bard to be performed at the new venue in 1599 was probablyJulius Caesar.

Whether he was recruited by actors visiting his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon, or drawn to London on his own, is not known. In 1592 Shakespeare was an established actor with connections to influential people.

He became one of the first members of The Lord Chamberlain’s acting company when it was formed in 1594. Sponsorship of the nobility provided the acting companies with safety from persecution. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, the troupe under patronage of King James was renamed The King’s Men.

The Globe Theatre Actors With Shakespeare

Though Shakespeare performed at The Globe Theatre, his writing and producing were the most important aspects of his work. He was known to have played the role of “the Ghost in his own Hamlet”. He also played small roles in several of his own plays such as Adam in As You Like It, and Brabantio in Othello.

Richard Burbage, owner of the Blackfriars Theatre, was considered the greatest of the Elizabethan actors. At The Globe Theatre he was the principal player in many of Shakespeare’s plays. The tragedies King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello may have been written expressly for him.

Henry Condell and John Heminges were usually placed high on lists of the company’s actors. The collected plays of Shakespeare were prepared by them for the “First Folio” published in 1623, seven years after the Bard’s death.

Theatres Closed by Puritans

During a performance of Henry VIII June 29, 1613 a misfired cannon ignited the playhouse’s thatched roof. The Globe Theatre burned to the ground. A new facility was built and opened in 1614 with a roof of tiles, rather than thatching.

In 1642, Puritans in power believed all entertainments were sinful. The Globe Theatre and all others were quickly closed down. The famous playhouse where many of Shakespeare’s great works were introduced was demolished in 1644. Having fallen into disrepair, the Blackfriars Theatre which was the company’s winter venue was demolished in 1655.

Sources:

  • Shakespeare’s Friends by Kate Emery Pogue, Greenwood Publishing Group Inc. 2006
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies by Stanley Wells, University of Cambridge 1986

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