This is record of a six month slice of my life spent quite often in a garden shed and a cubby hole in James Graham College of Education, near Leeds, between December 1965 and June 1966. When I revisited the place where the College had been I found that everything, including the good old Victorian house had been demolished for a toffy-nosed housing estate. My model, last I heard of it, had already gone to another College in Leeds – I’d love to know if it still exists in some educational establishment somewhere. These are the notes I made at the time – slightly edited.
The wall drawing by CWalter Hodges [see end]
Shakespeare’s Theatre by CWalter Hodges (Junior Library book)
The Seven Ages of the Theatre by RSouthern
Shakespeare’s Stage by AMNagler
Begun 26th December 1965 (1598/99)
Finished 20th June 1966 (burnt down 1613)
Personal Cost 5/6½d [about 28p]
Wood Used – green grocer boxes, plywood, quartering and floor-board scraps
from a friendly joiner. Odd pieces of hardboard.
Evostick and PVA
A few nails
Approximately 1500 separate pieces of wood in the model.
A Hypothetical Construction
While studying the books listed above, trying to reconcile the evidence given about the Globe Theatre by them, in order to draw up workable plans for the model, I was conscious of steering through a rumbling literary/historical argument. Reading the following quotation from AMNagler, late in the day, to whom trying to reconstruct the Globe seemed a hopeless task, made me think about the validity of the model:-
‘…The available documents simply do not enable us to answer questions such as: How large was the acting area? Were the stage doors parallel to the front of the stage or at an oblique angle to it? What was the nature of the upper stage? What was the height of the tiring house? I am not certain we could answer these questions even if we had the Globe contract…’
Anyway, I persisted, since the construction work got me out of writing two essays on subjects that were not congenial to me. I drew up rough plans. The base:-
Southern provides a more positive note:-
‘…A matter about which there is positive evidence should be added to the above. We have various statements that the interiors of the Elizabethan playhouses were ‘beautiful to look at’, ‘were painted’ and ‘marbled in a fashion skilful enough to deceive even a curious bystander…’ ’
The aim of this model was to preserve the simplicity of a hypothetical design (pace Nagler), the wood texture, and to reveal the construction while creating an illusion of decorative complexity, enough ‘to deceive even a curious bystander’…
Richard Southern’s note on the extant sketch of an Elizabethan theatre (De Witt – Van Buchell) draws attention to one of the minor limitations of the Hodges reconstruction revealed by the building of this model:-
‘…though seats are shown in the top gallery, this is labelled ‘porticus’ which means a roofed walk-way. The suggestion is that (since sight-lines would only allow two rows of benches up here as against five rows in the lowest gallery) there must have been promenade space behind the seating…’
The view of the audience in the top gallery may be gauged by looking through the removable portion of the exterior wall of the model. [The photographs showing this have unfortunately been lost.]
Nagler refers to another position in which the view of the audience would have been seriously obstructed if the Globe had been built like the model:-
‘…It is doubtful whether the stage of the Theatre, the Curtain or the Globe had two lofty posts like those supporting the stage roof in the Swan sketch. Such posts took up precious space and barred the view of several spectators…’
There are three pieces of contemporary evidence about the playhouses erected between the years 1576 and 1623 – the drawing of the Swan and two builders’ contracts, one for the Fortune and one for the Hope. Taken together these three items form the more or less essential basis to which any other evidence must be related. This, point is made by Richard Southern in The Seven Ages of the Theatre (p 172).
No plan or specification of the Globe exists, but its characteristics are referred to in the Fortune contract of 8th January 1599. The main difference between the two theatres is that the Fortune was square whereas the Globe appears to have been round or polygonal. The items in this contract which were used in the construction of my model are as follows:-
‘…The frame of the house to… measure 80 feet square outside and 55 feet square inside…’
‘…The frame to be in three storeys; the first to contain 12ft in height, the second 11ft and the third 9ft. Each storey to be 12ft 6in broad, besides a juttey forwards in either of the saide twoe vpper stories of tenne ynches of lawfull assize, with-four divisions for gentlemen’s rooms… and with stairs, and conveyances (passages) like those of the Globe…’
‘…With a stage and tiring house made in the frame, with a ‘shadow’ (cover) over the stage…. The stage to be 43ft wide and broad enough to come to the middle of the yard. (55ft divided by 2 = 27½ft)…’
The sceptical Nagler points out that ‘the dimensions which Adams computed for the Globe stage (43ft by 29ft) are purely hypothetical’. I took the width of the stage as 30ft which is the length of the edge of a rectangle drawn on the longest side of a four-sided figure having for three of its sides three of the sides of the sixteen-sided figure which encompasses the pit and the stage area. This seems to agree with Walter Hodges’ large drawing which is the primary source for the model.
The Fortune contract continues:- ‘…The stage in all other dimensions to be like that of the Globe…’
‘…With glazed windows to the tiring house…’
‘…The frame and staircases to be lathed and plastered (lime and hair) on the outside…’ This effect has been simulated by gluing the sawdust created by cutting the wood for other parts of the model to the hardboard used for the exterior walls.
Throwing caution to the winds, Nagler provides the information that the stage was probably raised about six feet above the floor of the yard, since this much room was needed for ther operation of the traps. Moreover, the platforms of the street theatres were traditionally head-high.
The first Globe was thatched. According to Nagler, the event of the burning of the Globe was celebrated in a number of popular ballads ‘…one of which advised the actors to whore less and spend the money thus saved to construct a tile roof…’
My model was roofed with straw…
I took great care over the construction of rafters & pillars!
This photo of the construction of the actual Globe by the Thames exudes an uncanny air of resemblance to the experience of making my model:-
Even more uncanny was the experience of attending a Shakespearean performance at the real Globe somewhere around 2000. It was just like walking round my model. I even wondered if it had been used as a prototype for the real Globe. Maybe,say, Sam Wanamaker had found it buried under a heap of files & old clothes in some dead or dying college where it had been used as a visual aid with drama students.