From Bard to Verse for Open-Air Tribute; Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Has Been Lovingly Rebuilt as a Permanent Tribute to the World's Most Famous Playwright. IAN STARRETT Steps Back in Time to Sample What London Has to Offer the Modern Tourist

By Starrett, Ian | The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), July 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

From Bard to Verse for Open-Air Tribute; Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Has Been Lovingly Rebuilt as a Permanent Tribute to the World's Most Famous Playwright. IAN STARRETT Steps Back in Time to Sample What London Has to Offer the Modern Tourist


Starrett, Ian, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


Prostitutes, pickpockets and men who dressed up as women. This was just part of the everyday world of William Shakespeare.

And what's more, some of his best mates never washed because they believed it helped them to ward off diseases like the plague and they used human urine to remove stains from their clothes.

History lessons were never like this at Clondermott Secondary School during my early Londonderry years! Yet in one half hour a Shakespeare-admiring US guide at London's lovingly-rebuilt Globe Theatre taught me more about early Elizabethan history than I'd ever learned at school.

Built completely of sturdy English oak, the strong aroma of the fruits of the acorn flares the nostrils the moment you enter the awesome Bankside auditorium. Before this, visitors view the world's biggest exhibition on the subject of England's greatest-ever playwright.

But it was while inside the impressively realistic open air auditorium that the life and times of Will vividly invaded the imagination.

A flag was hoisted atop the Globe to tell the people on the far side of the Thames that a play was on, a tradition that is being repeated this summer for productions there of Hamlet and The Tempest.

Yesteryear's male actors often dressed up as women to play female lead roles while The Globe in Shakespeare's day was amid the Thameside ''red light'' district.

Some brazen ladies of the night even satisfied the lusty desires of fee-paying amorous menfolk in darkened upstairs cloisters, the prostitutes generously donating their earnings to the Globe if sex took place during the performance of a play.

The old Globe, as is the case with the new, didn't have seats for everyone and it wasn't uncommon for people to stand for three hours in inclement weather to watch Shakespeare's works performed live.

Spectators who didn't like a performance would often sling an apple or some other missile at one of the actors.

While light-fingered thieves, who mingled in the crowds, were called pickpockets there weren't any pockets on most Elizabethan clothes which is why people carried purses attached to their hands by strings. Thieves would cut the strings and run off with their snatch. The faithful reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse was the brainchild of film maker Sam Wanamaker but sadly he died before he could see the project completed.

The Globe's Piazza Restaurant served warming and filling pasta, which we washed down with chilled Budweisers, while an unseasonal steamy summer squall outside awarded us time indoors to ponder what the Bard might have made of the product of Sam Wanamaker's dream. Methinks he would have approved.

Londonderry has taken considerable interest in London's Millennium Footbridge.

A similar Year 2000 project had been in the pipeline to span the River Foyle from Waterside to the Guildhall, the symbolism of it all being that at the start of a new era in Ulster history it would link the people of the mainly loyalist Waterside with nationalist west bank residents.

In the end it didn't happen and as London's new stainless steel bridge spanning the River Thames became the latest victim of the English capital's Millennium jinx there must be those in Londonderry heaving a mighty sigh of relief. …

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