Going, Going - Gone?

By Leech, Michael | History Today, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Going, Going - Gone?


Leech, Michael, History Today


It's being cemented over already, there's a car park where the auditorium once was'. This was the glum comment of a friend of mine who lives not far from Anchor Terrace, a nondescript building of 1839 which, though a grade II listed building, would merit slight attention except for one thing. It is being 'done up' by a developer and it stands on the site of what is undoubtedly England's first literary shrine -- the original Globe theatre stage. Is it too late to save it?

Archaeologists from the Museum of London worked on the brief excavation project in 1989. Until recently the auditorium was visible. The terrace is privately owned and stands on a 1.5 metre thick concrete platform -- over the stage. They made holes in the platform and radar-scanned the stage below before being stopped. Quite a lot exists and is still visible.

The South Bank's reconstruction of a Tudor playhouse -- Shakespeare's Globe, stands bravely beflagged, bright and new by the Thames, the first thatched building in central London for 400 years. Blessed with a glittering opening last summer, the American actor Sam Wanamaker's tribute to Shakespeare is handsome and as authentic as they can make it.

But how can we measure its authencity without being able to view the original? Contrary to popular belief it does not occupy the same site. The old Globe stood, one of a riverside line of five theatres, in the Elizabethans' version of a pleasure park. Some years ago the stage of one of them, the Rose, was exposed for a short time to the delight of archaeologists and actors and much was learned. How to find out more?

Contemporary description is sparse, illustration sparser. According to novelist Beryl Bainbridge, Dr Johnson's friend, Mrs Thrale mentioning in a letter written over 200 years ago that from her lodging by what is now the Southwark Bridge Road. If the exterior is difficult to reconstruct, the interior is even more of a problem. Most theatre directors and designers call on a crude drawing of the Swan interior as a typical Tudor stage. In 1953 Tanya Moiseiwitchs was influenced by it at Stratford, Ontario, when, in collaboration with architect Robert Fairfield she designed both theatre and elegant stage for a unique permanent Greaco-Elizabethan concept of Tyrone Guthrie. It has since provided inspiration for theatres around the world.

Jason Goldsmith in New York, a Shakespeare enthusiast pursuing graduate studies in Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, has worked hard to publicise the plight of the original globe, resulting in some coverage. (Why are so many Americans more concerned about Britain's heritage than we ourselves?) Jason used an Internet page on William Shakespeare called 'mr ws and the internet' set up by Professor Andrew Gurr of Reading University who has been crusading for the Old Globe for years.

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