King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe
The stage of the original Globe Theatre was probably quite large (about 40 feet wide and 25 feet deep). The wealthier people watched from seats in the galleries while the ‘groundlings’ stood in the yard, closely packed around the three edges of the stage just a few feet away from the actors. Very wealthy members of the audience could pay to sit on a stool on the stage itself in order to see – and, no doubt, to be seen.
There was an entrance door on either side of the back wall, plus a larger central door which opened into a ‘discovery space’, or interior area, into which a bed or other large prop could be inserted. The balconies above could be used by the actors for certain scenes and also to house the musicians. There was a trapdoor into the space beneath the stage and possibly another above in the ‘heavens’ (the name they gave to the stage’s canopy roof) through which actors and objects could be raised or lowered. The ‘heavens’ were supported by two large pillars.
Scenery was sparse and large props rare (except for a chair of state to use as a throne). Costumes were magnificent, but all in contemporary style – no ‘historical’ period designs. The cast was all-male (women were not allowed on public stages). Performances were in daylight. Night-time scenes would have been represented by actors dressing appropriately, carrying torches or candles, or discussing the prevailing conditions.
Scenes of swordplay were very impressive, and some special effects and ‘noises off’ were possible. Thunder was simulated by rolling a cannonball down a trough, and for blood they probably used bladders filled with real pig’s or sheep’s blood. Musicians could provide trumpet flourishes and drum rolls, and backstage staff created sounds of armies massing, clocks striking, and so on.
Performing the Play
There are teacher resources available for each of the activities below.
You can access them from the King Lear Teacher Resource Hub here.
BUY THE PLAY
With extended glossaries, a running synopsis of the action for every page of script, and boxed features focusing on core areas, these plays are the ideal text with which to study Shakespeare's work.