On This Day: The Globe on fire
June 29th, 1613: The Globe Theatre burns to the ground.
The first recorded performance of William Shakespeare’s ‘All is True’ took place at The Globe Theatre on the banks of the River Thames in June 1613. The play, now more commonly called ‘Henry VIII’, is not one of Shakespeare’s best known and may have disappeared into obscurity if it had not been for the disaster that befell the theatre.
The production, which focuses on Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, was clearly intended to go off with a bang. At a climatic moment in the performance a cannon was fired towards the theatre’s famous open roof. Sparks set the thick thatch roof smouldering and, before long, smoke was creeping through the rafters. According to an eyewitness, for some time no one in the audience seemed to notice: ‘their eyes more attentive to the show’. Before too long the fire became difficult to ignore yet, remarkably, no one was hurt in the blaze. One man’s breeches reportedly caught fire, but his skin was literally saved when someone soaked him in beer.
The Globe was not so lucky. The blaze ripped through the building and the theatre built by Shakespeare’s playing company in 1599 that had staged some of his most famous plays was burned to cinders.
Carr, H., (2022), ‘Anniversaries’, BBC History Magazine June 2022, p. 12.