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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

Shakespeare's Globe & Its Culture War

This has been a *hot topic* in my seminar classes lately, so let’s talk about it!

Read the full BroadwayWorld article HERE

Read the full Times article HERE

Learn more about Shakespeare's Globe HERE

The question of what Shakespeare’s Globe “should be” has been a debate since its conception. Founder and visionary, Sam Wanamaker, wanted this reconstruction to be an experiment and laboratory. Previously, there were many gaps in our understanding of Early Modern Drama and what playhouse practices would have looked like in Shakespeare’s day. The Globe posed a unique opportunity to study and develop theories of Original Practice and other theatrical practices from the period. Space informs performance, and we were able to learn much just by using this reconstructed space as a testing ground. For the first 15 years of the experiment, Artistic Director, Mark Rylance, led the company through an experiment in Original Practice. Granted, the Original Practices in use were experimental and used more as reference points instead of gospel; not every production utilized cue scripts or all male casts, for example. These first 15 years were critical for how we understand Early Modern Playhouse practices and Shakespeare in performance today; however, once this experiment came to an end, there was a major question floating around: what happens now? It seemed like the initial goal had been completed. This is where public opinion started to butt heads with artistry.

Many people believed that, because of its name and roots in education and academia, that Shakespeare’s Globe should be expected to produce what would be considered to be more “traditional” productions. Artistically speaking, this is not ideal. By remaining a strictly educational and tourist-centered production establishment, The Globe runs the risk of becoming highly commercialized, and losing artistic merit. Jump ahead to the third Artistic Director, Emma Rice, who’s time in the position was plagued with controversy. She took a very different approach to Shakespeare, which ruffled some traditionalist feathers, and she stepped down from the position after two years.

It’s a very complicated situation, because yes, it is important for us to study these Original Practices, but at the same time, theatre has evolved. I certainly think there’s a time and place for Original Practice Shakespeare, but I don’t think that is the *only* Shakespeare that has a place at Shakespeare’s Globe. Shakespeare himself was an innovator, and we should strive to emulate his creative spirit when producing his work. We should not be settling for stagnant and stale productions with nothing new to say. What I think is truly so remarkable about his works compared to some of his contemporaries’ is their universality and how many have withstood the test of time. There are layers and perspectives that can be put on these plays that allow them to take on entirely new meanings and lives.

It is also important to note that The Globe’s audience is massive. The stories that are told on that stage reach millions of people, so representation and care matter. Because The Globe is such an iconic “institution” on the global theatrical and cultural stage, it receives a lot of media attention. What this article is addressing is how traditionalist ideas are pushing back against innovations at The Globe, which in turn, are putting actors and artists in potentially dangerous situations. Theatre is supposed to be a safe space that challenges world views and opens difficult dialogues; but with the growth of the media, culture wars and hate are becoming all-consuming. There’s a time and place for Original Practice, but being conceived the be an experiment in theatre, I believe Michelle Terry is right on track with Shakespeare’s Globe’s artistic philosophy.

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