Some might recall that at the start of the pandemic, roughly 17 years ago, social media started using the trivia that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic as a clarion call to artists, to encourage them to use this adversity to be even more productive. But it turns out that, if Shakespeare had written King Lear during this pandemic, he wouldn't even have a theater to put it on, because the Globe is on the brink of bankruptcy.
It's almost curtains for Shakespeare's Globe, the reconstruction of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre. The far too snug Medieval theater has been empty for months, instead of having put some of its Shakespeare adaptations on YouTube including its recently canceled performance of Macbeth. (Though that one's hard to search for since the video title doesn't mention the play). With no bums on seats, the Globe is in dire financial straits. Neither a borrower nor a lender, the charity isn't funded by the Arts Council England, instead of making almost all of its revenue from sales and commerce. This has left the independent theater unable to qualify for emergency aid money for arts venues, and now Shakespeare's Globe has published a dire warning that it needs $7 million to stay afloat or, thus, without a kiss due to social distancing guidelines, die.
In that case, the coronavirus will destroy what the bubonic plague never could. Throughout the theater's original run in the early 17th century, London was Plague City UK (population 225,000 and declining). In 1606, the epidemic became so bad that the government finally ordered the shutdown of all entertainment venues -- suspecting that keeping these packed places open during the 1603 outbreak may have contributed to a tenth of the city's population winding up on corpse piles. But the Globe recovered, reopening at the end of the year with fresh Shakespeare plays (King Lear being one of them) and enduring until it was shut down for much more appropriately theatrical reasons -- first because a prop canon burned the building down; the second time because the theater was banned under the puritans to censor "times of humiliation."
Who didn't recover, were many of the actors and artists of the Globe, who had to risk their lives finding other work to support them through those trying times. And despite now being heralded as the poster boy of plague productivity, all signs point to Shakespeare also hating every second of his lockdowns and that he suffered personally, mentally, and financially. During a previous lockdown in 1592, he even had to stall his playwriting career and start writing sponsored poems to make ends meet. Probably in his pajama pantaloons, hoping beyond hope that plays still existed when it all blew over.
So while Shakespeare's Globe theater will likely be fine (plenty of groundlings, patrons, and politicians will jump on the opportunity to save the house of Shakespeare) let its precarious position serve as a reminder to keep investing in the arts -- not to make sure someone writes King Lear today, but they're all still around to do it tomorrow.
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Top Image: Flickr/Kyran Lynam