II. Structure of the Globe
The theater that Cuthbert Burbage built for the Chamberlain's Men had a total capacity of between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators. Because there was no lighting, all performances at the Globe were conducted, weather permitting, during the day (probably most often in the mid-afternoon span between 2 P.M. and 5 P.M.). Because most of the Globe and all of its stage was open air, acoustics were poor and the actors were compelled by circumstances to shout their lines, stress their enunciation, and engage in exaggerated theatrical gestures. What would seem most striking to a modern (Broadway) theatergoer about the productions staged at the Globe is that they were completely devoid of background scenery. Although costumes and props were utilized, changes of scene in Shakespeare's plays were not conducted by stagehands during brief curtain closings. There was no proscenium arch, no curtains, and no stagehands to speak of other than the actors themselves. Instead, changes of scene were indicated explicitly or implicitly in the speeches and narrative situations that Shakespeare wrote into the text of the plays.
The stage of the Globe was a level platform about 43 feet in width some 27 or 28 feet deep that was raised about five feet off the ground. The stage was fitted with a number of mechanisms (trap doors in its floor for instance), and distinct sections (e.g., a sub-stage space toward its back lip for parallel action) that were creatively utilized by Shakespeare in his stage directions. It was surrounded on three sides by the "pit" in which "one-penny" spectators stood and, at a setback, by an amphitheater three stories high, each having a gallery and seating for "two-penny" theatergoers. While the galleries of the two-penny section may have been partially covered, the stage and the pit were open air. On the fourth side of the stage was an adjacent "tiring" house, where costumes changes were made. It was capped by a small turret structure, from which a flag and a trumpeter would announce the day's performances.
III. The Audience and the Actors
During Shakespeare's era, the Globe Theatre was not in the formal jurisdiction of London per se, but was located on the south side of the Thames River in the Southwark district. Along with its predecessors and rivals, the Globe Theatre was part of what might be called the "sporting district" (if not the "red light district") of Greater London. Although condemned by London authorities, along with cock-fighting, bear-baiting and the bawdy attractions of taverns, the Southwark theater district operated outside the legal reach of the City's officials. But while the Globe Theatre, and indeed, the entire Elizabethan theater scene opened its doors to the low life of the pits, it also accommodated an audience of higher-status, well-heeled, and better educated individuals. As Harry Levin notes in his general introduction to the Riverside...