Today in Theatre History: HOW CGI MIGHT HAVE SAVED SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE–June 29, 1613.

The only surviving photograph of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre burning down on this day--June 29, 1613.

The only surviving photograph of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burning down along with Will’s immediate reaction upon learning that CGI wouldn’t be widely available for another 380 years.

On this day back in 1613, during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, a prop cannon was fired to announce the arrival of the king during one of the scenes.  Unfortunately, an overzealous stagehand had used a bit too much gunpowder and sparks from the shot settled on the theatre’s thatched roof.  Within minutes the facility was in flames.  People were quickly evacuated and, fortunately, no one was hurt–apart from a male spectator who apparently suffered a pair of singed biscuits as a result of his pants igniting.  Appropriately, the burning breeches were extinguished by a bottle of beer.*  At least that’s his story of how he lost his pants and why he smelled of beer when he got home… (Possibly the source of “liar, liar, pants on fire”?  Just guessing.)  In less than two hours, Shakespeare’s famed Globe Theatre was a pile of smoldering ashes.  Nonetheless, the King’s Men immediately rebuilt and a new and improved Globe Theatre reopened on the very same site the next year.  Whether the fellow with flaming pants returned, we may never know.  What we do know is the theatre never burned again.  Instead, it was pulled down by the Puritans in 1644 (or thereabouts) to make room for tenements–its exact location remained unknown for centuries until a corner of the original foundation was uncovered under a parking lot during the summer of 1989.

(*Sir Henry Wotton writes of this man and his flaming pants in his letters–the only surviving evidence that documents the fire.)

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2 Responses to Today in Theatre History: HOW CGI MIGHT HAVE SAVED SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE–June 29, 1613.

  1. John Madill says:

    Hi, your reference to a ‘prop’ cannon leaves a little to add on in today’s context for the term. It would probably have been an actual ‘cannon’ called a ‘chamber’, or light and flexible artillery piece (see illustrations and suggested application of the use and placement of artillery in the public theatres of the time, accompanied by some imaginative blocking) in C W Hodges’ delightful and exhaustively illustrated insightful ‘Enter the Whole Army’ (Cambridge UP, 1999). Nice academic book review is available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1050&context=earlytheatre I think it was a flying piece of burning wadding (a problem in dummy loads) in the charge that caught the thatch –to be subsequently replaced by slate on the rebuild.

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