On this very day in 1613, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, William Shakespeare’s acting company, were doing their usual performance of Henry VIII. But unlike usual, this performance was ended by flames.
According to shakespeare.org, Chamberlain’s Men performed at the London stage known as the Theatre from their beginning in 1594. But some of the royal supporters of the company, such as the Earl of Southampton, began to have strained relationships with the Queen. In turn, this endangered Chamberlain’s Men’s lease of the land. Giles Alleyn, who was the landlord of the Theatre, intended to destroy the building. Shakespeare and his acting company, however, would not have that happen. They would not let their work die.
As it turns out, Giles Alleyn only own the land upon which the Theatre sat, not the materials used for building it. So, fearlessly facing the challenge, Shakespeare and his men took apart the Theatre piece by piece, moved it across the Thames, and built a new theater on their own piece of land. Less than a year later in 1599, the new theater was finished and ready for play productions. It was dubbed the Globe.
For fourteen years, the Globe hosted a countless number of Shakespeare’s plays. But on June 29th, 1613, tragedy struck in the form of fire.
And how did the Globe burn down? Sabotage? A lightning strike? Angry Puritans? None of the above. At the end of the first act of Henry VIII, there was a mishap with a stage cannon that set fire to the thatched roof of the stage. Everyone escaped unharmed—except for one man’s scorched breeches.
The moral of the story? Don’t fire cannons in a wooden stage, you may suggest. Wrong. Eight months after the original Globe burned down, a new and improved Globe Theater stood in its place. This time, they built the roof out of non-flammable tile instead of thatch. The actual moral, then, is that even untimely flames could only interrupt Shakespeare’s timeless work.
Featured image via whatsonstage