The Globe Theatre—This Wooden O

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

We went to see Henry V at the Globe Theatre last night, on a clear June evening. British summertime lasts forever, and the sun goes down around 9.30pm, so it was lovely to see the play staged in the dusky light.

And what a production to watch! The cast was pitch-perfect, and the Chorus member who narrates throughout was phenomenal, accomplishing exactly what Shakespeare tried to do with his words: transport your imagination up and away through the thatched roof and across the English Channel to the fields of France.

But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that hath dar’d
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

“This wooden O” in the play’s opening lines is believed to describe the shape of the Globe, and people believe that Henry V was the first play staged in the original theatre. That one burned down centuries ago, and the one that stands today is a reconstruction, relocated by a matter of yards.

The Globe is located on South Bank, just across the Millenium Bridge from St. Paul’s. This is one of my favorite walks in London, so three of us set off from St. Paul’s (which you can see in the background above).

What a gorgeous, gorgeous city!

We opted for groundling tickets, which are for the standing area below the stage. Standing for hours gets tiring, but I wanted the groundling experience of being so close to the action, and plus, the tickets were only £5! I researched online for tips; people recommend getting there early enough that you can lean against the stage, which helps. But I wasn’t sure how early was early enough… So we arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes in advance, but the line was already long enough that we didn’t manage to get stage-front spots. Instead, we opted to lean against the walled-off seated section, which was pretty key in helping us survive a long (if thoroughly enjoyable) evening!

(You have to line up on the bank side of the theatre, outside of Gate 4. If you want stage-front spots, I’d recommend getting there at least 1.5 hours early. It’s not a bad wait, if the weather’s nice—gorgeous views of the Thames, lots of bustle and activity along Bankside.)

The anticipation builds! I’ve dreamed of this for at least ten years. It totally took me back to my college seminar on Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies, and how hard it was to keep all the Richards and Henry/Harry/Hal straight. Having to memorize monarchical history must be so frustrating as an English student. Seriously, why do they all have the same name? Was there a cutoff sometime in the 17th Century, at which point you just had to draw out of a hat of pre-picked names? Edward, James, Charles, Henry, Richard, John… and of course, Elizabeth.

… Wikipedia-ing …

Whoa, check this out. The first monarch listed was named Offa Rex, son of Thingfrith, married to Cynethryth. Sounds like Middle Earth! (Yeah, I know, it’s actually the other way round, but whatever.)

All the world’s a stage!

I was so, so, so impressed by the production, and absolutely thrilled with the experience!

I love Shakespeare in the Park, and Anne Hathaway was brilliant in Twelfth Night a few seasons ago. But you have to give this one to the original. The company was amazing, the setting perfect. It’s definitely my fave Shakespeare production I’ve seen so far. But the season’s not over yet! I’ll be going to see The Taming of the Shrew (this time, in the seats) in a few weeks. And I’m also hoping to catch a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon too.

Lastly, I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but it bears repeating: 2012 is the year of London fun, and one of this summer’s special events is the Globe to Globe Festival, with productions of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages. Check it out here for more info.

Gotta love London. <3


6 thoughts on “The Globe Theatre—This Wooden O

    1. Aw, thanks! I wish everyone could experience it in person, but if I’ve managed to make that experience accessible, my work here is done! :)

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