The Globe, the Rose, the Theatre: They’re some of the most famous names in the history of theater, yet we didn’t really even know what they looked like until a Dutch drawing of one theater interior was found in 1888. It also turns out that the theaters themselvers were hardly fixed in some classic form. They were often hastily improvised, “ongoing projects” — with parts added on as needed. Or as the competition dictated.
One point, for example, that Julian Bowsher, senior archaeologist with the Museum of London, discussed during the Boshell Family Lecture on Archaeology at the Dallas Museum of Art, was the changes affected at the Rose (about which much more is known than the Globe). The Rose apparently took shape in 1587 without a fixed roof over the stage. Later, its circular shape was seriously altered — because a stage roof was added. That meant the sightlines along the sides had changed. In effect, a flat-front proscenium stage had become a thrust stage — which is what the later Globe adopted. The roof, Bowsher pointed out, also now permitted new “special effects.” It could hold pulleys for “gods” to fly in and out. These explanations, Bowsher said, were arrived at partly through consultations with working actors.
To give some idea of the dimensions of the Elizabethan stage: At 75 feet across, the Rose’s was a little smaller than the current stage at the Wyly Theatre. As for seating, the Wyly holds fewer than 600. The Globe? It held somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. Imagine the lungs it took to be heard in the balconies’ back rows.