Globe: Life in Shakespeare’s London

Written by Catharine Arnold
Review by E.M. Powell

This book combines the history of London, Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre in an absorbing account of their respective cyclical fortunes. It is the fascinating story of how acting came of age and Arnold deftly weaves the different strands of history together. We have James Burbage, an ex-travelling player or “strutter” to thank for his vision in opening a playhouse (called The Theatre) in 1576. Burbage endured financing headaches just as modern theatres do. But he also faced other more robust threats: plague, politics, fire and violence.

Arnold devotes much of the book to exploring Shakespeare’s plays in the context of the time and the impact their live performances would have had. She also looks at the development of different roles within the theatre, such as the Tire Man, who was in charge of costumes and torches. It is a tale of tragedies, both personal and for The Globe itself which was destroyed by fire, and though rebuilt, was then destroyed by Cromwell. Yet, in triumph, it rose again in the 20th century. A wonderful read.