I thought the following question to myself (because talking aloud to yourself is only allowed when you’re a) reading a poem or b) you’ve stubbed your toe, because swearing is more satisfying on the tongue than in the mind): Who is the most famous poet? My answer, unsurprisingly, was William Shakespeare (a swear word amongst poetry haters, I’m sure, so feel free to say his name out loud).
Then I turned to the One True Poetry Oracle to confirm my theory, and every one of the 164 million hits that Google coughed up said the same thing. Probably. I stopped after seven because, you know, boring.
Now here’s the fun fact: we British owe the existence of The Globe Theatre – a replica of Bill’s own theatre back in the day before it burnt down – to the American actor Sam Wanamaker.
Old Sam (I can call him Sam because Americans are notoriously less formal than we Brits), or Young Sam, as he was in 1949, when our tale begins, visited London and was shocked – shocked, I tell you! – to discover there was no replica Globe to be found, for there were several back home in the States. There was only a dirty old black plaque on an old, unused brewery to commemorate it (so much we could unpack in that sentence on the nature of British understatement, but that’s a deprecation for another day).
Long story short: he built one. A Globe Theatre, I mean. Not without difficulties, and he died before it opened, but it’s ace. You should visit it. You should see one of the plays, usually staged as close as possible to how Old Shaky’s audience would have seen them back in the day (but with the occasional plane interrupting play because the Globe has no roof).
And the best part: if you visit as a groundling – a person who stands to watch the show, who would have been poor, dirty and smelly back in the day, but the Globe hopes that the experience won’t be that authentic – it only costs a fiver! Five British pounds. Five hundred pence. Less than the price of the tube/bus/petrol/parking to get there (the entertainment might be cheap but our public transport is ridiculously overpriced, sadly).
How can you NOT try it? The worst that happens is it’s boring and your back and feet ache and it rains on you, and one of the actors to whom you can stand close enough to grab by the ankle if you really hate it might accidentally spit on you when enunciating and you go home thinking that was the biggest waste of five pounds you’ve ever spent…but what if it wasn’t? What if you saw Shakespeare as he should be experienced? He didn’t write his plays to be studied, after all. You might finally see what all the fuss is about.
Fun fact: I’m a fan of Bill. And Sam. The play’s the thing.