The famous Globe Theater was built in 1599 under duress. Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, had long been performing in a facility known as the Theater. In 1596, however, the lease on the Theater’s land expired. James Burbage, who was the father of the company’s leading actor, Richard Burbage, built a new theater at Blackfriars to replace the old one. The theater at Blackfriars had a roof, which would enable the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform in the evenings and in the cold of winter. But fearing the disturbance of theatergoers in their neighborhood, the residents of Blackfriars convinced city authorities to ban use of the building for performance. James Burbage died in 1597, leaving all his money tied up in the now useless Blackfriars facility. With virtually no capital and limited performance opportunities, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men took drastic action. Although the lease on the Theater’s land had expired, the building that stood on that land now belonged to Richard Burbage, who inherited ownership when his father died. The company resolved to sneak onto the land one night in December 1598, dismantle the building, and transport the materials to another site where they could erect a new facility: the Globe.
The construction of the Globe Theater, which was cooperatively owned by several company members including Shakespeare, ended in 1599. Unlike the theater at Blackfriars, the Globe’s stage was open to the sky, unless covered by a cloth canopy. The stage thrust out into the middle of the “pit” or “yard,” where people who had paid one penny for admission stood around three sides of the stage. Vendors selling food and alcohol walked around the audience throughout the performance. Beyond the stage and the pit was an area called the “gallery,” which contained covered benches. These seats were expensive and reserved for wealthier patrons. The “heavens” was a painted ceiling supported by two columns that covered the stage. A trap door in the heavens enabled cast members to create special effects, such as dropping flower petals onto the stage during a wedding scene or lowering actors on ropes for flying entrances. Sound effects such as thunder or musical cues could also be created in the heavens. Plays were performed in daylight, usually in the afternoon. When a scene took place at night, the actors brought flaming torches onstage to signal to the audience that it was supposed to be dark.
The original Globe did not have a long life. During a production of Henry VIII in 1613 a cannon was fired, and a stray spark ignited the wooden beams and the thatching. The Globe burned to the ground. A second Globe Theater was built on the same site the following year. The second Globe remained in operation for nearly thirty more years, until 1642, when a Puritan ordinance shut down all active theaters in the city. Two years after its closure, the second Globe was demolished in order to make room for the construction of tenements. More than three centuries later, in 1970, there arose a plan to build a new Globe Theater. It would take nearly twenty more years before construction would begin. In 1989 the original foundations of the Globe were rediscovered, and after archaeologists examined the remains, their findings were incorporated into the reconstruction plan. The replica theater, now part of a building complex known as the International Shakespeare Globe Theater, opened in 1997.