How can visitors experience live Shakespeare performances in their original settings?

11 June 2024

Few experiences carry the same weight and sense of history as watching a Shakespeare play in its original setting. The stage has been the home of the Bard's work for over 400 years, and it's an immersive experience that can transport you back to the time when these plays first debuted. Whether you're a seasoned theatre-goer or new to the world of Shakespeare, experiencing a live performance in the places where they were first performed can be a transformative experience.

Experiencing Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre

When thinking about the original settings for Shakespeare's plays, your mind may immediately go to the Globe Theatre, located in the heart of London. First built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Globe was where many of his most famous works were first staged.

The Globe theatre is not just a place. It's an experience, a journey back to a time when theatre was much more than a pastime. It was a central part of people's daily lives, a source of news, gossip, and, of course, entertainment. The Globe is a faithful recreation of the original, after the original one burned down in 1613 and again in 1644. The theatre's reconstruction was completed in 1997, and it now stands as a testament to the enduring popularity and relevance of Shakespeare's work.

Today, The Globe Theatre operates as a working theatre, production company and educational facility, dedicated to bringing Shakespeare's work to life in the city where it all began. The company offers free tours for students, while regular performances of Shakespeare's plays run throughout the year. If you're lucky, you might even witness a performance of 'Hamlet' or 'King Lear' in the same place where these masterpieces were first performed.

The Royal Shakespeare Company: Where Tradition Meets Innovation

Aside from the Globe, another key destination for experiencing Shakespeare in its original setting is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Based in the Bard's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, the RSC has been at the forefront of Shakespearean performances since its foundation in 1961.

The RSC prides itself on its blend of tradition and innovation. It's committed to producing Shakespeare's plays as they were written to be seen, on stage and in the language they were written in. However, at the same time, the company is renowned for its innovative staging and interpretation. The RSC aims to make Shakespeare's works accessible to everyone, regardless of their familiarity with his plays.

At the RSC, you can watch performances in two historically accurate theaters: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre. These theaters recreate the intimate settings of the Elizabethan playhouses where Shakespeare’s works were originally performed.

Exploring Shakespeare's Birthplace: Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon is a mecca for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Here, you can walk the same streets that the playwright once did, visit his birthplace, and even see the house where he spent his final years. However, experiencing Shakespeare in this town goes beyond merely visiting historical sites.

Stratford-upon-Avon is also home to the Shakespeare Institute, an international center for research into the life, times, and works of William Shakespeare. The institute offers a range of courses, masterclasses, and events dedicated to the study and appreciation of Shakespeare's works.

The town regularly hosts a variety of Shakespeare-themed festivals and events, including the annual Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Festival. This event attracts thousands of bibliophiles from across the globe who come to celebrate the Bard's work through a series of performances, workshops, and lectures.

Discovering Shakespeare Through Theatre Tours

If you're unable to visit London or Stratford-upon-Avon, there's still a way to experience Shakespeare in its original setting: theatre tours. Several theater companies in the UK and the US specialize in touring performances of Shakespeare's plays.

These companies, such as the Shakespeare's Globe on Tour, bring the experience of Elizabethan theatre to audiences who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see a performance in a historically accurate setting. These productions often use traditional methods of staging and performance, offering audiences a unique and authentic experience of Shakespeare's plays.

Shakespeare in the Park: A Free Outdoor Tradition in New York City

Another way to experience Shakespeare in an unconventional yet immersive setting is through the Public Theater's annual tradition known as Shakespeare in the Park. Located in the heart of New York City's Central Park, this free outdoor event brings Shakespeare's plays to life in a setting that's available to all, free of charge.

Shakespeare in the Park was first launched in 1962 by Joe Papp, the founder of the Public Theater. His aim was to make Shakespeare's work accessible to everyone, and over the years, this venture has certainly achieved its goal. Today, the Delacorte Theater in Central Park hosts two productions each summer, attracting audiences of over 100,000 people each season.

These free outdoor performances are renowned for their high quality and star-studded casts, often featuring some of Hollywood's biggest names. Past productions include 'Twelfth Night', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', and 'Romeo and Juliet', among others.

Taking in a Shakespeare play under the stars, surrounded by the bustle of New York City, creates an atmosphere that's hard to replicate. Although it's not the traditional theatre setting that existed in Shakespeare's time, it certainly adds a magical touch that offers an unmissable experience for any Shakespeare enthusiast.

Walking in Shakespeare’s Footsteps: The Shakespeare Walking Tour

For those who prefer a more active approach to their cultural experiences, the Shakespeare Walking Tour could be an ideal choice. This tour allows you to trace the Bard's steps through the landmarks and backstreets of London, exploring the places he lived, worked, and found inspiration.

From visiting the site of the original Globe Theatre to exploring the districts where Shakespeare resided, the tour offers a unique insight into the playwright's life and times. You'll learn about the social and political contexts that shaped his writing, allowing for a deeper understanding of his plays.

The tour is an engaging way to combine elements of history, literature, and exercise while experiencing the city as Shakespeare might have seen it. Although it doesn't allow for a live performance experience, it is an informative and fascinating journey into the world of William Shakespeare.

Conclusion: Uncover the Magic of Shakespeare's Time

Experiencing Shakespeare's plays in the settings where they were first performed, whether it's the faithful recreation of the Globe Theatre or the innovative approach of the Royal Shakespeare Company, can offer an unrivalled immersion into the world of the Bard. The thrill of watching his timeless masterpieces in such settings brings us one step closer to the era when they were originally presented.

More so, alternatives like the annual free Shakespeare in the Park event in New York City or the Shakespeare Walking Tour in London offer unique ways to engage with the playwright's works and legacy.

Regardless of whether you're a seasoned theatre-goer or new to the world of Shakespeare, these experiences provide an opportunity to delve deeper into his works, his life, and the time he lived. These experiences offer a way to not only enjoy the Bard’s work but also to understand its enduring relevance and its undying charm. After all, as the camp Shakespeare saying goes, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

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