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The Unbeaten Path: Globe-Trotting in London

By John J. Ronan
The Washington Post
Sunday, May 10, 1998; Page E04

Intrigued by a glimpse of Elizabethan London? Then detour to South London's Southwark, where Shakespeare's Globe, the faithful reconstruction of the Bard's beloved theater, opens its second season this month.

Running from May 19 to Sept. 20, Shakespeare's Globe offers an all-Elizabethan repertoire including "As You Like It" and "The Merchant of Venice." Other productions include Thomas Dekker's "The Honest Whore" and Thomas Middleton's "A Mad World."

The theater is the centerpiece of the International Shakespeare's Globe Centre, which also features historic exhibits, an education center, a restaurant and a cafe. Throughout the season, there are numerous special events, including workshops, craft fairs, exhibitions, tours and concerts. The entire complex will be completed next year with the addition of a permanent exhibition facility, library, and research and education center.

Largely the vision of an American, the late actor-director Sam Wanamaker, the center rises on the south bank of the Thames, just a few hundred yards west of the original site. The gleaming white Globe so precisely follows the known architecture of the original building that its roof, which circles the open-air central yard, is thatch -- the first thatched structure to be built in London since the Great Fire of 1666. The exposed timbers, cracking and splitting as the green oak dries, were cut and fashioned to Elizabethan standards; most joints are mortise and tenon. The brilliant lime plaster, which covers the lathing between timbers, also followed Elizabethan recipes -- with one exception. The original mix called for cow hair, but since modern breeds no longer sprout hair long enough for proper strength, goats filled in.

Southwark itself offers more than its share of history, much of it within walking distance of Shakespeare's Globe. Nearby are the ruins of Winchester Palace, which in Shakespeare's time was the London home of the Bishops of Winchester. Beyond, on Clink Street, is the infamous Clink Prison. Notoriously active in Shakespeare's day, the somewhat gruesome jail is open for tours.

Near the Southwark end of London Bridge is another Elizabethan reconstruction: a full-scale, working replica of the Golden Hinde, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world. The public can board daily. Next to it is Southwark Cathedral, one of the city's most splendid churches. It has several Shakespearean connections: William often worshiped here, and the playwright's younger brother, Edmund, was buried in the structure in 1607.

From central London, Shakespeare's Globe is easily reached via tube or bus; it's also a pleasant walk via Southwark Bridge. For information on theater schedules or tickets (about $8 to $30), call the Globe's Ticketmaster (no fee) at 011-44-171-316-4703 or fax at 011-44-171-902-1475. On the Web:

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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