“ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE”: Digitising the Archives of Shakespeare’s Globe

 

Construction of The Globe Theatre, London 1994-1995. Photographer Tiffany Fenner

Here, we’d like to share some of our editorial team’s favourite materials whilst preparing the tens of thousands of images generated for publication. Despite challenges along the way, it was a fascinating project for us and here are three areas of the archive we found particularly interesting.

A great joy of this collection are the prompt books detailing how productions are put together. One treasure is the prompt book for the first performance to the public in 1997, Henry V. This was an ‘Original Practice’ production that looked to reproduce known elements of early modern performance; for example, with an all-male cast and clothing as authentic as possible. It’s amazing to see the work that goes into a performance through some of the notes on rehearsals these documents hold – ‘could we locate a source of etiquette of Elizabethan manners’ for example. Prompt books can be a great way of reconstructing a performance: as one of our contextual essay writers Bridget Escolme shows in her piece on the Globe’s prompt books, the annotated script in the 2003 Taming of the Shrew prompt book shows how decisions on the play’s final speeches were made – a crossing out of some lines and then a ‘lines back’ in note and then stage directions which show how the tables are turned on Petruchio and why the decision to reinstate these lines was made.

 

Photograph of The Taming of the Shrew 2012. Photographer Manuel Harlan

Example of stage directions from a Prompt Book. Copyright Shakespeare’s Globe.

With the audience central to performance at the Globe with the theatre’s open-air nature, shared lighting and groundlings we were most entertained by the show reports produced the Globe’s Front of House team. Not only do these documents offer a glimpse into audience reaction to a performance but we’ve come to view this Front of House team as a heroic bunch as they manage the public with tact, sensitivity and class in what can be particularly trying circumstances. They deal with misbehaving children, scuffles in the audience and a lot of fainting – both from standing in the heat and also the bloody and gory content in some productions such as a 2011 Macbeth and 2006 Titus Andronicus.

 

Titus Andronicus Show Report. Copyright Shakespeare’s Globe.

Finally, the oral histories, some digitised from cassette, offer a superb look into the genesis of the Globe. They contain conversations with those involved in the early days of the project; including the first Artistic Director Mark Rylance, architects and members of the Globe Council. They give a great sense of how the project was funded, the reception from the artistic establishment, discussions over artistic direction and construction and the challenges the project faced and overcame.

We’re thrilled finally be able to offer students and researchers the opportunity to access this exciting archive online and hope it’ll make a great contribution to the study of Shakespeare in performance, theatre studies and cultural history the world around.

https://www.amdigital.co.uk/primary-sources/shakespeares-globe-archive

info@amdigital.co.uk