o after six years in London, having done a Master’s Degree in ‘Shakespeare in History’, and now working on a Shakespeare PhD, I have finally made it to the Globe Exhibition! I mean, I’ve been to the Globe Theatre (and the shop!) countless times, but somehow never managed to go to the exhibition.
Last week, friends from the US came to London and I thought, what better time to go to the exhibition than now! For those of you who have not been to London or are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, it is essentially a reproduction of the original Globe Theatre, in which Shakespeare and his theatre group performed their plays. The current location of the Globe Theatre is not where the original one stood, but it gives us a fairly good, if not completely accurate, idea of what the famous original Globe Theatre would have been like.
Apart from the actual theatre, where plays are performed only during the spring and summer months, because it is an open-air theatre, there is another indoor playhouse (the Sam Wannamaker playhouse), a cafeteria, a ticket office, a gift shop, and an exhibition space in or around the building.
Usually, you can take a guided tour of the Globe Theatre and then visit the Exhibition, but the day we were there they undertook works on the theatre space itself, so unfortunately the tour was closed. My friends and I decided to still visit the Exhibition after I had shown them around the building and the Globe gift shop – yes, I am mentioning this gift shop a lot, just because I absolutely love it and always find something to buy. I am just a sucker for good, albeit sometimes cheesy, marketing.
The Exhibition itself teleports us into Elizabethan England, narrating the story of Shakespeare’s life, that of his contemporaries, the state of the theatres in early modern England, writing and printing practices, fun and interesting facts about London, its lawmakers, the Thames, visits to the theatres etc. Alongside more traditional displays, you can also see stage props that were used in some Globe productions, the original dress that Marion Cotillard wore as Lady Macbeth in the new Macbeth movie, a recreation of a typical Elizabethan kitchen setting, a miniature recreation of Bankside, and many more interactive and engaging items and displays.
In Shakespeare’s time, going to the theatre was not a noble, or well-thought-of endeavour, because theatres like the Globe, were situated outside the main city, far from the reach of the city fathers, close to brawly taverns and bawdy brothels. Many people carried knives with them, and so, brawls and sometimes fatal fights were common among the often drunk and vulgar audience. The exhibition shows, in an accessible and fun way, how the theatre functioned, how it influenced the audience and society in general, and the display makes it clear to us that ‘Shakespeare’ was not always the equivalent of an exquisite theatre experience. His plays were popular, loved by many, and accessible to almost everyone. Nowadays, many attribute his plays with high-brow academic work, inaccessible research, and a difficult version of English.
All in all, I enjoyed the Globe Exhibition, it’s a fun way to spend half of your afternoon in the company of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, to look at stage props, costumes, and some live sword-fighting, and to indulge in some easily accessible knowledge about Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and the theatre in early modern England.