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I was going to visit JP and Guido in Bermondsey which is in Southwark (Suthick), an old acquaintance of mine Marcus Gheeraerts painted this scene of their restaurant in 1570 in Bermondsey. I think the Spanish Armada had arrived in town at that point. The famous JP can be read at https://itsmyhusbandandme.wordpress.com I would rename his blog Adventures in Bermondsey.

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You can see the Tower of London on the other side of the Thames. This is more or less the period of Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare. Unfortunately JP was not in London the day we came by. So we went to visit the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, the project championed by actor Sam Wanamaker.

A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named “Shakespeare’s Globe”, opened in 1997 approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre. The exact location of the original Globe Theatre is not known.

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I would not have visited this site if it had not been for Will, he wanted to see it and this was our chance. Since English is not my mother tongue, I have great difficulty understanding Shakespeare and grasping the meaning of his plays, I think Corneille use to say It’s Greek to me. I always say why can’t they make it into modern English for all to grasp. Nonetheless, it was a fascinating visit and I learned a great deal about the period and life in London at the time. Tours are given and the guide gave us a very good description of how plays were performed and who came to the theatre then. It was a theatre for the masses and people were packed like sardines inside. The whole business was to present a play and make as much money as possible by selling as many tickets, it was rough and ready entertainment for the age, in a brutal world.

The South side of the Thames was a suburb of London and fell outside of the Lord Mayor’s purview, so you could present plays and other spectacle like bear baiting and dog fights and have all manner of immoral and illicit entertainment which would not have been tolerated in London proper. London then was a very small town starting at the Tower of London and ending at Westminster, a small area easily walkable. The only bridge across the Thames was London Bridge which was always congested with traffic. It was easier to hire a barge and row across.

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This maquette of London shows the Thames frozen solid which would happen some Winters, with all kinds of activities taking place on the frozen river. The South bank or Southwark.

It was a difficult time politically, Queen Elizabeth I was very suspicious of all around her to the point of paranoia, she saw plots everywhere. Wars of religion was still a fact of life between Catholics and Protestants and Puritans and Presbyterians were constantly agitating for a narrow minded social agenda either in Parliament or at City Hall. Actors and theatres were a favourite target and the threat of closure was always present. Under Oliver Cromwell in 1647 all theatres will be closed and some demolished, bigotry and fanaticism in London led to such extreme measures.

Writing plays as Shakespeare did could also be very dangerous, at any time you could be accuse of fomenting sedition which meant arrest and death for the author. Shakespeare was careful to always tow a prudent political line and flatter the Monarch so as not to become a target. He also sought the protection of powerful patrons and financiers. Complete original manuscripts in the hand of William Shakespeare do not exist, there are no substantial surviving manuscripts, so his plays are known from printed editions done during or just after his death. Seven years after his death, two of his friends and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell produced a collection of 36 of his plays, this became known as the First Folio.

In other words London and England at the time was a nasty brutish place. Contrary to what was shown in the movie Shakespeare in love, Queen Elizabeth I never came to the Globe. The theatre was brought to her in her Palace at Whitehall, this for reasons of security but mostly because the prestige of the Sovereign did not permit that she would stoop to the level of actors who were in the same class as prostitutes, criminals and other miscreants. The first English monarch to come to the Globe will be HM Elizabeth II in 1997 at the opening of the reconstructed theatre.DSC08892.JPG

The highly symbolic painted decorations of the stage would have been easily recognized by people at the time of Shakespeare, above the heavens with the gods, the spheres and the constellations, below the stage was Hell with its malign influences. In between was the resultant disarray of earthly existence, its trials and follies, tragedies and comedies played out on stage.

The exhibits at the Globe are very interesting from explanations on costumes and how they were made, to the make-up worn by actors, most of it made from highly toxic and poisonous ingredients, lead mercury, arsenic.

Also describe the crowds attending, there were various prices for seats and high prices for those special boxes by the stage reserved for wealthy nobles. Then there was the pit the area directly in front of the stage. People packed in so tightly you could not move. Our guide described for us what you could experience. People did not wash and were covered in lice, bad breath and strong body odour, because you could not move or leave during the show, you simply relieved yourself where you stood. People brought food and drink and spoke loudly during plays. In the upper balcony of the theatre all manner of immoral encounters occurred, the guide being a sensible fellow left it to our imagination to fathom what might have happened up there.

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Here is a view of the more expensive boxes for Nobles with painted interiors. The Globe is not a big theatre but in Shakespeare’s time 3000 people could be packed inside for one performance. Today only about 1600 people can attend due to fire regulations.

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Stage is being set-up for the 1927 silent movie, Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer with accompanying orchestra.

While at the Globe book shop, I picked up Catharine Arnold, Globe, Life in Shakespeare London and The time traveller’s guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer. I enjoyed them both.

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A wood model of what the final reconstruction of the Globe and adjacent buildings would look like, most of it has been re-built, I am not sure if the rest will be completed.

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The area today with the famous Shard building in the background. All in all a fantastic visit and most interesting.

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Will and I on the footbridge crossing back the Thames at St-Paul’s Cathedral.

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