Shakespeare turns 450 – Get thee to the Globe!

Miranda is every inch the woman that Ferdinand imagines. Yes, she really is. Watching a performance of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London, I’m reminded that the only women visible in the original Elizabethan theatre would have been fanning themselves in the undercover galleries or cracking their teeth on hazelnuts in the open-air yard. Miranda would certainly have been played by a young man.


These days, 450 years after Shakespeare’s birth, a female player is treading the boards as Miranda. Most plays are now performed by a mixed cast. However, in a nod to tradition, Henry V, the new Globe’s opening play in 1997, was performed by an all-male cast in authentic Elizabethan costume.


In 1999, actor Mark Rylance famously strutted his stuff in the lead female role in Antony and Cleopatra, teetering on the brink of the incredible in large platform ‘overshoes’ called chopines. These are on display in the Globe’s exhibition area, along with ‘Cleopatra’s’ delicately hand-embroidered corset and silk skirt (pictured).


In an ironic twist that Shakespeare would surely have appreciated, the Globe has presented all-women performances, too. Before seeing The Tempest, we take a 30-minute guided tour of the theatre itself, our guide recalling six-foot-tall actress Janet McTeer “playing a very swashbuckling Petruchio” in The Taming of the Shrew. Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III, she adds, have also been performed here by all-women casts.


The new Globe was late American actor/director Sam Wanamaker’s dream to resurrect the original Globe Theatre built in 1599 in nearby Park Street. No plans for the original Globe exist, but archaeological excavations of about five per cent of its foundations in 1989 confirmed the dimensions of this 20-sided open-air polygonal building.


Shakespeare’s date of birth is less certain; however, his birthday is traditionally celebrated on 23 April, based on his baptism on 26 April 1564 in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.


How to celebrate the birthday bard’s 450th? Get thee to the Globe! Attend a performance, participate in a guided tour of the theatre and wander through the extensive theatre exhibition.


Here are some insights about Shakespeare and his Globe that I gleaned on my visit:


Shakespeare didn’t attend university. Why? Because universities permitted single men only, and Shakespeare married when he was 18.


Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday. Cue Twilight Zone theme music.


The theatre was an excuse for a long smoko. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were performed at 2pm only. “The City opposed the theatres because they drew apprentices away from work,” says the exhibition literature. Playhouses weren’t permitted within London’s walls, so pleasure-seekers would cross the Thames to visit Bankside, where the Globe and other theatre