Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is a reproduction of the original Globe Theatre in London, has been performing plays by Shakespeare and other playwrights of his time since 1997. In recent year, they began filming the plays, and have released a number of DVDs and Blu-Rays of their productions. (I reviewed their Twelfth Night.)
Today, Shakespeare’s Globe has launched the Globe Player website which brings these films closer to users around the world, offering streaming and sales of many of their productions. At a cost of £4 for rentals (which let you watch the play for 7 days) and £8 for purchases (also available for download for 7 days; make sure to back up your files), this is a fairly-priced offering, but in terms of content, there’s not a lot available, as of yet. Only 15 Shakespeare plays are available on the site, along with one play by Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus.
In addition, the theater offers content from their Globe to Globe series, in which Shakespeare’s plays are performed in languages other than English, by companies from around the world. These films are available for rental for £3, and for sale for only £5. This will certainly attract a global audience, but there are no more than one or two plays in any language.
I have several of these films on DVD already, and, when I went to the site to buy one to try it out, I was disappointed. There are a number of comedies and history plays, but only one tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. There is no Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Julius Caesar or any of the other well-known titles. It’s not so much that they’re reserving these titles for sale on DVD and Blu-Ray, but they simply haven’t filmed any of them yet, with the exception of Macbeth, in the 2013 season. The other recently filmed plays that are not on the site, also from last year’s season, are The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I assume they’ll offer those titles online after they’ve exhausted hard-copy sales.
So, in choosing which film to buy, I settled on Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The file is 2.73 GB, and lasts 2:27, but none of this information was available on the website; I only found out when I started downloading, and when I had finished downloading the file and added it to my iTunes library. The film is also in HD (1080 x 1920), but this isn’t indicated anywhere on the website, and I don’t know if all the films are indeed in HD. I should also note that I got no email confirmation of my purchase, or the charge against my credit card, which is very surprising, and simply wrong; I’ll have to check my bank statement to make sure the correct amount was charged, and I have no receipt.
The website also features some free content: for now, this is limited to a documentary about staging Hamlet, some readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and some interviews from another documentary, Muse of Fire, about Shakespeare. You cannot, however, rent or buy Muse of Fire.
One thing I’d like to see is bundles (at least for purchases, but, perhaps, also for rentals). They sell a few DVD sets, and the plays that are in multiple parts, such as Henry IV and Henry VI, would naturally lend themselves to being bundled. But they could also sell bundles of, say, three or four comedies or tragedies, when they have more content.
Technically, the website offers streaming through the site itself; it would be a lot better if there were an app, or if they marketed these films through services such as the iTunes Store or Amazon. As such, you’ll need to stream the video to a TV, unless you want to watch it on a computer, at least for rentals. Purchases are DRM-free mp4 files, so you can just add those to your iTunes library.
In spite of my reservations about the Shakespeare’s Globe productions – by constraining themselves to performing the plays (more or less) as they were done ink Shakespeare’s time, they limit how they can present the plays (I was very bored seeing their Henry VI on tour) – this is an excellent resource. We’re certainly in a golden age for filmed theater, and the ability to buy or rent these performances of Shakespeare plays, at a reasonable price, is wonderful. I only wish the Royal Shakespeare Company would do the same thing.
I look forward to more titles in the future, eventually covering all of Shakespeare’s plays, and those of other authors of his time.