Shakespeare’s career probably started as an actor in a theatrical company called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. There, he worked with another young actor, Dick Burbage. Dick’s father was a rich business man and, in 1576, built the first real theatre in Britain just outside London’s city walls. He was the first person to make the audience pay to watch the show. Until then people simply passed a hat around to collect money.

In 1599 the company had to move and they built a new theatre, the famous ‘Globe’, on the banks of the river Thames. It was an octagonal building with no roof, similar to a stadium, and so if it rained the people in the middle got wet. Plays needed natural light and so were usually performed during the day. The people who stood around the stage were called groundlings and paid one penny to watch the play. A seat in a balcony cost about a penny more. The audience could buy food and drinks while they were watching and even move around and speak if they were not interested in the performance. All the actors were men, with boys playing the women’s parts. Shakespeare even acted in his own plays!

 

Illustration by Paolo D’Altan, taken from ​Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare, Reading Shakespeare, Step 4 (B2.1)