Looking Beyond the Bardolatry of Shakespeare’s Globe

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(Shakespeare’s Globe- A view from the Thames)

Bardolatry was a term coined by George Bernard Shaw to describe the excessive love and idealization of Shakespeare, referring especially to the Shakespeare’s Jubilee celebrations by actor David Garrick. Bardolatry relates not to the idealization of the texts, but of the idealization of the man behind the texts and the things associated with him. Thus, places like Shakespeare’s Globe and Stratford-upon-Avon become idealized places associated with the myth of the bard.

This September I had been lucky enough to start a course in Shakespeare Studies which was taught in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe. I must admit as I started this course I was as guilty of idealizing this space as the next tourist who visits the Globe. Yet, as each week passes, I feel my idealized image breaking down. It is not with disappointment that I
emerge from this experience, but with a greater sense of awe of this institution. Even as my participation in the bardolatry of Globe reduced my understanding of the Globe into a purely one dimensional term (i.e. representative of the place in which Shakespeare’s Company performed), the breaking down of this image has allowed me to see the complex experimentation of the theatre. It is a space that allows the interaction of academics, artists, students, admirers and laymen, albeit, not always to everyone’s satisfaction.Shakespeare’s Globe has today become such a permanent fixture on the Southbank of London and the next stop of a Shakespeare pilgrimage after Stratford-upon-Avon, that it is easy to forget that it was built as recently as 1997. Also, that it is the closest approximation of the original Globe and not the exact copy (situated a couple of feet beyond the original site).

 

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Lying behind this building is a history of struggle and debates, which still continues (the position of the pillars seems to be a sore point). Like Rome, it was not built in a day, in fact, it took decades in it becoming a reality. Sam Wanamaker, the man behind the dream, had put forth the idea of reconstructing Globe as early as the 1970s. It would take years of academic debates and studies and struggles with funding for this dream to become a reality. As we look onto the Globe today, it is hard to imagine that it had been ever opposed as it seems to be a natural part of London Southbank. It took a lecture from Jon Greenfield, project architect of the reconstructed Globe, to look beyond the idealized portrait of permanence that is provided to the world.

As he traced the history of the modern Globe, it reflected the love and dedication that went into this extensive project (only a person truly in love with his project can make a talk focused on architecture and carpentry interesting to a roomful of literature students). Greenfield talked about how the modern Globe is the closest guess of the 1599 Globe. It could not have possibly been the exact Globe, not only because of the modern-day fire safety precautions (keep in mind that the 1599 Globe had been destroyed by fire), but also because we do not have any concrete evidence of what the Globe would have looked like to its last minute detail. Instead, what we have are illustrations, contracts and other Early Modern documents that give us just an idea of how the Globe would have looked. It is through a sifting the fact and fiction, and modern day changes that we are presented with the present structure, which still has its multitude of detractors. The detractors also seem to be guilty of at least some extent bardolatry in insisting an exact replica of the Globe, ignoring how even in its closest approximation, the modern Globe is a space of innovation and helps in furthering the understanding of Shakespeare’s theatre.

Globe’s experimentation is not just limited to what is presented on stage and its experiments with light and sounds, but also extends to the audience. Its inclusion of a group as diverse as the audience of the play meant that sometimes these experiments had to be enforced. The introduction of Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment, which talks about the multi-faceted aspect of the theatre, also mentions how the audience, initially, had to be coerced into standing in the Yard, an idea which was still novel at the time, to allow them to have an authentic Early Modern theatre going experience.  To enable that to happen they, initially, poured water onto the yard to prevent the audience from sitting down.

The modern Globe is still a space which is growing and developing. It is a complex collaboration between artists and academics, and a space for experimentation with what the original practices could have looked like and combining modern interpretations with Early Modern theatre practices.  Even after stripping away at the idealized portrait, it cannot be denied that it is an experiment that is worth applauding, even if one does not always agree with them.It is a complex space that invites the participation of all.

(By Maxine – devotee of the Bard & currently pursuing Shakespeare Studies at King’s College, London)

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