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Shakespeare in London

I love words. A lot. I love them spoken, and written—on advertisements, in theater plays, scribbled on walls and shared on Twitter (sidenote: have you seen this Twitter account yet?!?). As a native English speaker, I’m more prone to enjoy English words, but Spanish ones are sexy, Italian ones bellissimo and German ones—unbelievably informative.

Words inspire me. They’re my biggest motivator. When reading, if I stumble on an out-of-place or unusual word, I might stop in my tracks, repeating the word syllable after syllable. I’ve got a copy of the book Everything is Illuminated where a single word caught my attention so much, I practically poked a hole through the page staring at it.

As a lover of words—and yes, even poetry—I’ve grown to really appreciate and value one of the English language’s greatest wordsmiths: Mr Shakespeare. So much so that this isn’t even the first time I’ve written about my love affair with Shakespeare. And on my triumphant return to London after 7 years away, I made a point of visiting Shakespeare’s famous Globe Theater.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Okay — first of all, it’s technically not Shakespeare’s theater. As anyone who has seen Shakespeare in Love can attest, the theater was actually under the management of shareholders—most famously the Burbage brothers. The play company that Shakespeare worked for, however, used the Globe for its productions. The Globe today is famous for its architectural design: three stories in a circular, open-air amphitheater. Actors use the whole building as a stage.

On the ground level, the Globe originally sold standing-room spots to watch the plays for a single pence. This was meant to allow just about anyone the opportunity to see plays. Today, those same spots are sold for just £5. Naturally, those are the tickets I booked when visiting last month.

The current Globe Theater is, perhaps obviously, not the same one during Shakespearean times. In the 20th century, the Shakespeare Globe Trust was set up to research, educate and eventually found a new Globe Theater. Today that theatre stands just a few hundred feet from its original 17th century location. While little is known about the historical theater, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater was reconstructed as historically accurate as possible. Situated along the south bank of the Thames, the theater is located in one of my favorite areas of central London.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

The Globe’s iconic architecture

While the site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater features an education and exhibition center, my real interest for visiting the Globe was to see some Shakespeare, hey. The Theater doesn’t exclusively put on Shakespeare plays, but from talking with one of the ushers, it seems that those are the plays that always bring in sold-out crowds (and tourists like myself). We had booked £5 standing-room only, yard tickets for two different performances during our one-week stay in London: The Tempest and Macbeth.

Having gone without theater for a few months, both were spectacular performances. The Tempest took control of the entire theater, using the balconies and the floor where we were standing to bring characters and props in-and-out of the performance. Seeing The Tempest on a rainy evening, we spent most of the play cold and under rain ponchos. But that only added to the atmosphere.

Impressed by the atmosphere inside the Globe during The Tempest, when we returned two days later to see Macbeth I didn’t really expect things to get better. But they did. The Macbeth performance was especially moving with strong, passionate acting. Lady Macbeth’s character, played by Samantha Spiro, drove me to tears.

Tips for Viewing from the Yard

BOOK TICKETS EARLY — If you plan to visit the Globe Theater during your stay in London, make sure to book tickets in advance. We booked online, paying an extra £2.50 to reserve “seats,” but otherwise it would’ve been nearly impossible to get such cheap tickets at the last minute.

SEE IT FROM THE YARD — Seeing Shakespeare from the yard was definitely a highlight of the experience. Admittedly, my feet were tired from so much walking around London and then standing during a 4-hour play, but thankfully there’s an intermission.

BRING YOUR OWN DRINKS — Food and drinks can be pre-ordered before the show and picked up during intermission, which we took advantage of. Prices were fair and the burger I had was convenient and tasty. Definitely recommended especially because the plays seem to coincide inconveniently with dinner time. The theater staff also didn’t seem to be bothered by people bringing in their own drinks (plastic only), which was a pleasant surprise. We arrived to the Globe after a full day of sightseeing with all of our daytime tourist gear (water bottles, cameras, sweaters, guidebooks), so we were thankful to not have to bother checking our bag or leaving things behind.

BE PREPARED FOR ANY WEATHER — Performances go on regardless of the weather (rain or shine), and you’re completely exposed in the yard, so bring a poncho (or purchase one there for £2) to be prepared. Umbrellas aren’t allowed; can you imagine the obstructed views?!

DON’T BE AFRAID TO MOVE AROUND — After chit-chatting with one of the ushers in the yard, we learned the most important tip for enjoying the theater. Because it’s standing-room and there are no assigned seats, you have the chance to view the stage from whichever angle you please. Our usher friend even suggested moving around during the performance. We watched Macbeth from center stage and then later from stage left. Not only were our views different, but the audience we were surrounded by changed as well. It made the whole experience that much more memorable.

globe shakespeare logo

London theater tickets for Shakespeare’s Globe can be booked directly on the Globe website:

  1. ink says:

    thanks for this post.. i love Shakespeare too.. and Oscar Wilde is another playwright i like..

    • Adam says:

      Oh there are so many playwrights that I’ve enjoyed over time. I’m also a big fan of musicals like those at the West End theaters.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I never got to to the shakespheres globe but it was on my to do list! however I got to Stratford upon avon which was nice! Great post however

    • Adam says:

      I went to Stratford-upon-Avon when I was a kid. It was one of the places I most wanted to visit when my family visited England! I don’t remember much so it’s probably worth a day trip again at some point.

  3. Alex | Partial Parallax says:

    Great post I am embarrassed to say I spent three years in London for university and somehow never went to the Globe. I’m very ashamed by this but I aim to be back in London in a few months and will of course make several visits to the Globe!

    • Adam says:

      Oh I don’t blame you Alex. London is a BIG city and there are so many things to do. I lived there for four months during university and though I used to hang out at the Tate Modern regularly, I never made it to a performance at the Globe. The West End musicals were what caught all my expendable income at that point :)

  4. Of course, there IS another viewing option: eschew being a “groundling,” and get the more conventional tickets for reserved seats. When I’ve seen plays at the Globe, that’s what I’ve done. It’s a bit more expensive, but you’re protected from the elements and it’s more comfortable. Admittedly, it’s a less authentic experience. :)

    And Stratford-upon-Avon is worth at least an overnight visit, and not just a day-trip; that way you can see a play or two while you’re there, and also visit Shakespeare’s house, Anne Hathaway’s house, etc. Plus, as I recall it was about a 2.5 hour train ride from London, so that makes it tough to do as a day-trip anyway . . .

    • Adam says:

      Harvey – yes that’s true! I guess I’d be afraid to say one or the other way is more or less authentic, though. They had sit-down seats in the time of Shakespeare so seems to me both are good options!

      When I visited Stratford as a kid I think we only visited for a few hours. Definitely would be cool to see some theater there! Thanks for the tips

  5. Anamaria C. says:

    You just made me remember London.

  6. Eitan Herman says:

    A great post, I’m ashamed to say I never spent three years in London for university, I went to the Globe somehow. I very embarrassing, but it will aim to be to go back to London in a few months, I will make several visits to the earth of course!I think it’s great to have these lists as inspiration for your goals, and yours are sounding pretty epic! The thing

  7. Martin says:

    The globe is a fantastic theatre but I think you got more value watching a Shakespeare play at the RSC in Stratford upon-avon. The productions are always slick and if you catch a matinee you can save a lot of money.

    • Adam says:

      Thanks for the tip Martin! Interesting to hear about getting more value in Stratford. The Globe was way cheap thanks to the “groundling” tickets! Would love to see a play in Stratford’s theater though – it’s on the bucket list!

  8. Nine Top London Attractions says:

    […] prices for standing tickets are £5, while seats are priced from £15-£39, or £3 for under […]

  9. […] the relaxing atmosphere of walking along the Thames. I’ve done lots of things in London, from visiting the Globe Theater and enjoying both comedies and tragedies of William Shakespeare. I’ve seen one of the best […]

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