From Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1613 that the Globe Theater burned to the ground. For more than 10 years, it had been the most popular theater in London, and it was the theater where many of Shakespeare's greatest plays had their premiere.
It had been built in 1599 by Shakespeare's own acting company Lord Chamberlain's Men. Shakespeare used his own money to pay for 12.5 percent of the cost. It was the first theater ever built for a specific acting company, and the first to be financed by that same acting company. Among the plays that debuted there were As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, King Lear, and Macbeth.
It was a theater in the round, with the audience in a circle around a platform for the actors. It was probably designed this way because most of the actors in Shakespeare's company got their start acting in the street, surrounded by a crowd. The plays were performed in the afternoons to take advantage of natural light. The roof of the theater was open to the elements, and most of the audience didn't even have seats. They just stood on the ground for the entire performance, which usually lasted about 4 hours.
And yet it was the most popular form of entertainment in the city. The theater held about 3,000 people, and it was usually full. At the time, London had a population of about 200,000. So whenever one of Shakespeare's plays was performed, 1 out of every 65 people in the city was at the Globe.
There were probably few props and very little in the way of scenery. But by then end of his career Shakespeare was apparently beginning to experiment with more dramatic effects onstage. On this day in 1613, a cannon was fired during a performance of Henry VIII to mark the King's entrance, the thatched roof caught fire, and the whole theater was lost in an hour.
In 1996, a replica of the Globe Theater was completed in London, and plays are performed there exactly the same way they would have been performed by Shakespeare's company. The performances take place in the afternoon daylight, there are no microphones, and few props. A large portion of the audience stands in the yard to watch the play, and the roof is open to the weather. About 700,000 people visit it every year. The actors say that the audience always pays better attention to the play when it's raining.Personal note: The best theatrical performance I have yet to see was at the Globe when me and my wife attended Twelfth Night. Amazing doesn't begin to cover it.