I first visited Shakespeare’s Globe with my sister in 2002. (I should mention that my sister is an engineer and therefore a non-English major. She likes Shakespeare a lot, watches productions on her own, and to her credit, was the first to introduce me to the wonder that is Kenneth Branagh in the early 1990s. This is significant because if you’re visiting the Globe with any non-English majors, you’ll need to keep their feelings in mind.) While the original Globe theater burned to the ground in 1613 after a stage canon accidentally ignited the thatched roof, the rebuilt Globe, constructed near the original site, opened in 1997 and is well worth visiting.
Non-English majors may be a little bored while you geek out in the museum exhibition, but their level of fatigue will depend on how disproportionate your Shakespearean fanaticism is to their indifference. My sister was a little tired with the length of time it took me to get through the museum, but she was a good sport about it.
The pinnacle of any trip to the Globe, however, is watching a production. I’ve stood in the Yard for two performances and sat in the gallery for one. As you consider what type of ticket to purchase, here are a few things to think about.
Not only is this the cheapest ticket (just £5), it’s also the best view in the house. I’ve seen two performances from the Yard: Twelfth Night and Richard II, both starring Mark Rylance, and both were phenomenal. But standing in the yard for several hours has its pros and cons.
This view from the back of the yard shows you how close you can get to the stage--if you get in line earlier enough. Yard space is first come, first served. If you're not interested in fighting for the front, the back of the gallery is much more relaxed and fluid.
My view of the stage while leaning against it.
- The actors cater to you. Not only are you closer to the stage than the rest of the theater, but the actors play specifically to the people in the yard, which means you’re more engaged in the show than you’ve ever been at a Shakespearean performance before.
- You can see more action than anyone else in the theater. With the way the stage is constructed, every audience member at some point has a slightly obstructed view, but those in the yard have less obstructions than anyone else.
- The energy is electric. When you’re surrounded by a group of people who are enjoying the performance, the energy causes you to be even more engaged and excited than you would have been otherwise. (It’s similar to watching a movie in a packed theater as opposed to an empty one. The movie is still good, but the energy level differs.)
- You get to be part of the fun. If you’re lucky enough to lean against the stage itself, actors may use you in a scene, make eye contact with you, wave their swords over your heads, or mess up your hair with their costumes. I guarantee you’ll never be this involved with a Shakespearean production anywhere else unless you’re acting in the play.
- You’re standing for a long period of time. Yes, it’s worth it, but you’re feet are going to get sore after three or four hours.
- If you want to lean against the stage, you’re going to have to stand in line for a long time. In 2003 when my sister and I bought yard tickets for Richard II, we ended up standing in line for close to eight hours just to get in to the theater. Even though we were at the front of the line, the rush to lean against the stage was so overwhelming that we just barely got enough space against the stage for the two of us. Non-English majors may not be as understanding as my sister and be willing to give up that much sightseeing time in order for you to be in the front.
- You might be the butt of a joke. If you’re close the actors and they involve you in the action, every eye in the theater will be on you for as long as the actor wants it. I’ve never seen the interaction be anything but good natured from the actors, but it’s good to prepare for it.
I’ve only sat in the gallery once for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both my sister and I were suffering from serious jet lag, having flown into London that morning, and this isn’t my favorite Shakespearean play, so it’s possible my feelings affected my enjoyment of the seats. Tickets can start as low as £17 for the gallery, so they’re still affordable.
- You’re sitting down. If the thought of standing for several hours makes your feet hurt in advance, then you should purchase a ticket in the gallery.
- Your seat is reserved so you don’t have to wait in line to get it. having an assigned seat was especially freeing after two years of waiting in lines to fight my way to stand close to the stage.
- Most seats don’t have backs unless you’re sitting in the very back row and can lean against the wall behind you. These are benches, folks, not cushioned theater seats. However, you can rent a cushion for the evening if you wish.
- There’s not as much energy in the gallery. I’ve discussed this with various theater enthusiasts I’ve met in my last three Globe visits, and the general consensus is that you lose a great deal of enjoyment in the performance by sitting in the gallery. While waiting in line to see Richard II, I met an older British couple who bring their mother in her 80s and all three insist on standing in the yard—it’s that much better.
- You’re separated from the action. Remember, the actors are engaging with the audience in the yard, so depending on your seat, you may be so separated from the actors that you feel like you’re watching television rather than sitting in a theater. For an English major, this disengagement may be a deal breaker.
Remember, if you’re an English major headed to the Globe, think about what’s most important to you about the visit and plan accordingly. Sore feet are definitely worth it if you’re wanting to be fully immersed in the experience, but depending on what non-English majors you have with you, seats in the gallery—at least for them if not for you—might be worth it.