The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0520 Thursday, 1 June 2006
From: Gabriel Egan <
Date: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 14:30:22 -0400
Subject: 17.0516 A Roof on the Globe?
Comment: RE: SHK 17.0516 A Roof on the Globe?
William Dudley's account of the documentary and archaeological evidence
about open-air amphitheatres in Shakespeare's time is wrong in certain
facts relevant to our debate.
>As proposed at that time [mid-1990s], the Pillars
>[holding the stage cover] were only 2'-6" from
>the front edge of the stage, based I believe,
>on a misinterpretation of the Rose Site.
In fact the chief determinant of this design was John Orrell's
conclusion that the ridge of the stage cover roof was on a radial of the
playhouse circle, not a chord. The weight of a gable-fronted cover
protecting the whole stage is considerably greater than the weight of
the kind of turret+hut design (with a pentice roof sticking out like a
ballet-dancer's tutu) that one might expect from De Witt's Swan drawing
and from Visscher's engraving. Orrell's chief evidence for the
radial-ridge stage-cover roof was John Norden's _Civitas Londini_
(1600). The arguments were made in:
John Orrell "The roof the Globe" in _The Shape of the Globe and The
Interior of the Globe: Reports on seminars held on 29 March 1983 and 12
April 1986_ edited by Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring _The
Renaissance Drama Newsletter Supplements_ Number 8 (Coventry: University
of Warwick Graduate School of Renaissance Studies, 1987) pages 33-41
John Orrell "The roof of the Globe" in _The Development of Shakespeare's
Theater_ edited by John H. Astington _AMS Studies in the Renaissance_
Number 24 (New York: AMS, 1992) pages 95-118
>the pillars were eventually moved to their current
>position some 7'-0" upstage. This is still not far
>enough though, as it does not agree with the equally
>famous Swan Theatre drawing which alas, was not trusted
>and thus ignored by the academic committee on the project.
The reasons for setting aside the Swan drawing evidence about this were
presented in the 1983 and 1986 meetings of the academic committee (of
theatre historians) held at the London offices of the architects'
company Pentagram. These reasons were accepted by the committee and
published in the above documents. Far from the committee ignoring the
Swan drawing evidence, the published accounts show committee members
Richard Hosley, Martin Clout, Ronnie Mulryne, and Margaret Shewring
arguing for a De Wittish stage cover rather than a Nordenesque one
(i.e., arguing against Orrell) and losing the debate.
Dudley's talk of his whistle-blowing and his implication that the
committee was cavalier in its proceedings is probably offensive to the
surviving members of that committee. (I believe I'm right in saying
that its members Theo Crosby, Richard Hosley, C. Walter Hodges, and John
Orrell have since died.) The committee appears to have taken its duties
most seriously and to have properly weighed world-class
theatre-historical scholarship in its deliberations.
One simple reason to ignore the De Witt Swan's evidence is that the
cover it shows protects only half the stage from the rain, and hence the
actors' clothing would get wet when it rained. To judge from the
extraordinary amounts spent on clothing (equal to many tens of thousands
of pounds today), the cover's main purpose was to prevent the clothes
>It was during this vigorous academic debate that
>I read the famous "Fortune Theatre Contract" which
>mentions that over the stage there shall be a
>"shadow"- i.e. not a roof!
The contract calls for "a shadowe or cover".
>I reasoned that beyond the "majestical roof
>fretted with golden fire" mentioned by Shakespeare,
>was an adjustable shadow or cloth shade to screen
>some of the audience from sunlight and inclement
>weather, much as in Roman times and in modern
The Fortune contract defines what Peter Street shall make in wood,
brick, and plaster. A cloth shade seems not the sort of thing it governs.
>I take great heart from recent findings from the Rose
>Theatre (where I designed the onsite exhibition in 1999)
>passed on by the original 1989 archaeologists, that the
>first (1587) Rose did not have any stage at all, but
>had a plain yard which was freely adapted by
>any company or other entertainment that played in it.
I had to read this several times to make sure there wasn't a way to
reconcile Dudley's account with the well-known archaeological evidence.
I failed. The interim reports of the Museum of London Archaeological
Service (MoLAS) all indicate a stage at Phase One (1587) of the Rose.
For example, in his book _The Rose Theatre: An Archaeological Discovery_
(London: Museum of London, 1998) Julian Bowswer, Senior Archaeologist at
MolAS, discusses the location of the stage (p. 39) and draws it on his
plans (pp. 31, 35).
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.