Globe by Catharine Arnold is not just a book about Shakespeare’s theatre but is actually a wider look at the beginning of established theatres, theatre companies and commercial theatre in London in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. It’s a period that I know something about, I have read/seen many of the plays she mentions and the book ends with a section about establishing the new Globe theatre in London during the present day which is interesting. I don’t think that you need to have read a lot about the period though to find it a good read as the book is pretty self-contained and self-explanatory.
The author tries to create the atmosphere of the time and to do that she generates some imaginary scenes including an opening chapter about Shakespeare coming to London and what he might have found. These set the scene for the reader although I do feel that she might have made it clearer that they are not necessarily real. The book then goes on to discuss how theatre was delivered before this period, what changed at this time and how that laid the foundation for the theatre we know today.
The author takes time to talk about some of the great playwrights of the time as well, including Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe and, of course, Shakespeare but doesn’t assume any pre-knowledge of their lives or works. She also features the theatre owners and producers, who are people I have seen less information about. We learn how the theatre companies were established and why they decided to invest in their own buildings and also who opposed this move and what then happened.
The book is easy to read and very interesting. Even if the history of theatre isn’t your thing I think you would enjoy it – I especially recommend it for recent readers of Hamnet.