J.R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, eds.; Andrew Gurr, advisory ed. Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. 192 pp. ISBN 0 521 59019 1 Cloth; 0 521 59988 1 Paper.
Bryan N.S. Gooch
University of Victoria

Gooch, Bryan S. "Review of Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt." Early Modern Literary Studies 3.3 (January, 1998): 10.1-4 <URL:

  1. Clearly, one of this century's most significant events in the realm of Shakespearean theatre -- and one of the most spectacular recent results of careful scholarship -- is the building of a replica of Shakespeare's Globe in Southwark. J.R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring's Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt offers an elegantly balanced collection of essays which, taken together, provide a splendid overview of the project -- the brain-child and legacy of the late and much-respected Sam Wanamaker. This book avoids any temptation to succumb to self-congratulation and academic chest-thumping, just as the project team deliberately (and wisely) eschewed the lurking possibilities of the familiar theme-park approach; the volume is marked, indeed, by a charming modesty of statement which allows for a clear presentation of the facts concerning the planning and construction of the building, and it is now incumbent on members of the scholarly and theatrical communities to offer the plaudits which are so richly deserved.

  2. The organisation of the volume is straightforward. The first part, "Past and Present," begins with an introductory piece by Mulryne and Shewring, "The Once and Future Globe," which presents not only pertinent historical detail but also a justification for the reconstruction, and follows with Andrew Gurr's "Shakespeare's Globe: A History of Reconstructions and Some Reasons for Trying." Gurr makes it abundantly clear that the work was the result of a co-ordinated team effort of specialists -- architect, the late Theo Crosby, scholars, et al. -- in order to achieve accuracy and to meet modern design requirements. Part two, "Varieties of Research," elaborates the exhaustive efforts which went into securing as much information as could be gathered in order to ensure that the building would be a faithful replica, and goes into the decisions concerning number of bays, dimensions, and so on. Here are essays by John Orrell, "Designing the Globe: Reading the Documents;" Simon Blatherwick, "The Archaeological Evaluation of the Globe Playhouse" (including data concerning recently unearthed footings of the original Globe and ownership of the parcel of land); and Jon Greenfield, "Design as Reconstruction / Reconstruction as Design" (again revealing the long process of planning, the team approach with tremendous impetus from Wanamaker, the approaches to meeting modern safety standards in terms of fire resistance and escape routes (inflammable thatch and sprinklers this time), and decisions about stage size and column placement). A second essay by Jon Greenfield, "Timber Framing, the Two Bays and After," follows, drawing on the work of master carpenter and timber framing expert Peter McCurdy (offering conjectures about construction techniques, consideration of near prototypes, and issues regarding the nature of the galleries, the use of jetties, and the building of the frames). Two pieces on decoration conclude the second part of the volume: John Ronayne, "Totus Mundus Agit Histrionem: The Interior Decoration of the Bankside Globe" (dealing with interior design, the tiring house façade, and the background to decisions about decoration, triumphal arches, carving of figures, and painting); and Siobhan Keenan and Peter Davidson, "The Iconography of the Bankside Globe" (again focusing on decoration, the notion of the Roman origin of the circular theatre, the painting of wood to represent stone, and contextual and textual evidence and analogues as sources, and details regarding the heavens (for which there is evidence in Merchant as well as the plays cited), frons scenae, second level, stage pillars, and painted cloths and hangings). Part three brings the reader to the purpose of all this effort: the use of the Globe as a working theatre and not simply as a museum piece destination for sentimental pilgrimage. Here the reader finds two pieces: Andrew Gurr, who always writes with economy, good sense, and easy felicity, comments in "Staging at the Globe" on the use of stage space, doors, balcony, hangings, etc.; and Mark Rylance, "Playing the Globe: Artistic Policy and Practice" (the problem of communication, the necessity of drawing the audience into a performance). Part four of the volume, edited by Mulryne, functions as an appendix and reprints documents central to the policies adopted during the planning and construction, viz., legal items -- the Rose playhouse agreement, the Fortune contract, and the Hope contract; papers concerning "theatre business" -- "Petition of Burbages to the Lord Chamberlain (1635)," and "The Globe Burns Down, 29 June 1613;" "visitors' accounts" -- extracts from work by Johannes De Witt and Thomas Platter; and a list of plays written for performance at the first Globe by the Chamberlain's/King's Men from 1599 to 1608.

  3. All of the essays follow one another nicely, a tribute to the editors' fine organisational hand, and the book is thoroughly and, indeed, generously illustrated with well-placed figures and both colour and black and white plates of excellent quality. There are only two notable omissions, an index and a bibliography, though the lack of the latter is minimised by the careful documentation in the notes which follow each essay.

  4. This is without question a first-rate volume which recounts a stunning story, and it is a must-read for all with an interest in Shakespeare, theatre, history, or historical reconstruction. We are much in debt to Wanamaker, Crosby, Gurr, Greenfield, McCurdy and all the members of the Globe team who have so energetically and conscientiously pursued to a brilliant conclusion the building of our new wooden O, and this book is a happy tribute to their collective endeavour.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

© 1998-, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).

(JD, LH, RGS, 29 January 1998)