Strange sister cities! Shakespeare’s faux Globe!

Header image, Episode 12

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The practice of Sister City agreements or twinning towns has a long history of “creating bonds between people from different cities around the world,” according to Sister Cities International. The city of San Francisco, for instance, has 19 official sister cities, including Osaka, Japan; Cork, Ireland; and Amman, Jordan. 

There are three communities that are bonded, however, not by an official sister city or twin town partnership, but by something much stronger: a sense of humor. The communities, one in Australia, one in Scotland and one in the United States, form the “League of Extraordinary Communities,” although in media coverage the group is better known as the “Trinity of Tedium.”

In 2013, officials in the tiny Scottish village of Dull officially paired their community with Boring, Oregon, a town about 20 miles south of Portland. Since then, the towns have changed their municipal welcome signs to reflect the pairing of Dull and Boring, they started the Dull and Boring Facebook page, and Oregon legislators signed into law Section 187.251, which designates August 9 each year as Boring and Dull Day. The statute is in the law books between First Responder Appreciation Day and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month. 

Boring and Dull Day is celebrated in Boring with a town gathering with live music and free ice cream, which I assume is limited to vanilla. In 2015, one resident of Dull, which is home to about 85 people, went so far as to design and register a tartan commemorating the pairing. Yes, you can have a kilt or scarf made with the Dull and Boring pattern. Insert your own joke here.

Over the years, Dull people have traveled to Boring, and Boring people have made the trek to Dull. Not wanting to miss all the frenzied excitement, leaders in the community of Bland (or Bland-shire) in New South Wales, Australia, officially joined the group in 2017. That year, Tony Lord, the Mayor of Bland, traveled to Dull to meet the Provost of the Perth and Kinross council area, Denis Melloy. By all accounts, they had a wild time.

Whether it’s a good-natured ploy for tourism — the Dull and Bland welcome sign is the most photographed sight in Dull — or just a matter of “misery loves company,” the people of Dull, Boring and Bland have created a bond that spans three continents and cultures.

That, in itself, is pretty exciting.



In all probability, the historical structure that is replicated or reconstructed more often than any other is William Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. The first Globe, which only existed 14 years before it burned down in 1613, has been recreated in at least a dozen cities, thanks in large part to the romance that has surrounded the man and his works for hundreds of years. 

As of 2018, there were at least 15 reconstructions of the Globe Theater, including the mothership, Shakespeare’s Globe, which opened in London in 1997. According to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., travelers can experience The Bard’s favorite playhouse in Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States. Most of them are faithful to the original in as many ways as are practical in modern times. (Which means they have bathrooms now.)

What makes the proliferation of Globe Theaters even more astonishing?

Well, honestly, no one actually knows what it looked like. Yeah, really.

Author Bill Bryson of “Walk in the Woods” fame, in his book “Shakespeare: The World as a Stage,” points out that what we think of as the Globe is actually a composite of other theaters and an application of probabilities. Essentially, historians will admit that “It probably looked like this but, honestly, we have no freakin’ idea.”

How can that be? The reproductions all seem so, well, Shakespearean. 

It turns out that there are only three images that dictate what the Globe looked like, according to Bryson and other scholars. 

First, there’s a crude sketch from 1596 by a Dutch tourist named Johannes de Witt of the interior of a theater from the time. Except it’s not the Globe, it’s the Swan theater, with which Shakespeare had no connection. It is the only depiction of the inside of a playhouse from the times, so there’s that. 

Second, there’s an engraved panorama of London by a Dutch artist named Claes Jan Visscher from 1616 that shows the Globe as an octagonal castle-like structure. Except, the art was probably cribbed from an engraving from 1572 (before any of the theaters were built) and, according to Bryson, Visscher had probably never actually been to London. Some scholars say the building is mislabeled and should be The Rose playhouse, the one portrayed in the movie “Shakespeare in Love.”

The third image is from a panorama by Wenceslaus Hollar, titled “The Long View of London from Bankside” and published in 1647 — 34 years after the first Globe burned down and 3 years after the second Globe was torn down by Puritans (to be fair, it likely was based on sketches Hollar made during the early 1640s, tho it also raises the question “Why leave it in the engraving if it’s gone?”).

That’s pretty much the entire visual record, Bryson says about the three images. “The best that can be said of any of them is that they may bear some resemblance to the playhouses Shakespeare knew, but possibly not.”

(I should point out that the Everything Everywhere Daily podcast by Gary Arndt has a terrific episode titled “Did Shakespeare Write the Works of Shakespeare?”, which addresses some of the bigger gaps in what we know about the Bard.)

To their credit the people behind building the Globe Theater in London did copious amounts of research on other theaters, building techniques and architecture from the time, all to improve the probability that what they built is the closest representation possible.

Given that millions of fans are still entranced by one of the greatest literary minds of Western history, and are able to get in touch with that feeling through the various Globe Theaters, arguing about its historical accuracy seems like Much Ado About, well, you know.