Travelling with an English class, it was only logical that we would spend a fair portion of time in England seeing Shakespeare-related sites. In London, on May 4, we began our day with a tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. A lovely woman named Val told us about the theatre and was entertaining, as well as clearly passionate about Shakespeare and the success of the theatre. She'd been involved with the Globe since 1988, almost ten years before it opened for business. It's hard to believe that it took until 1997 for a restored Globe Theatre to open. It is said to be authentic, to the best of Shakespearian experts' knowledge, and since I'm not by any means a Shakespearian expert, I was easily convinced.
After an afternoon that was dedicated to some much-needed relaxing, we returned to the Globe that evening for the opening night of Othello. We'd read it the previous week in class, but I was still a little nervous, because I didn't feel completely comfortable with it yet, and I worried that I would have trouble following it. My worries were not needed, though, because the play was performed wonderfully and even though I was standing against the back right corner of the stage and often saw the action from behind the actors, I understood everything perfectly. My one complaint, though, was for my feet! Standing for an hour before we got in, plus standing for the four hours that it took for everyone to kill each other off, as is the trend in Shakespearian tragedies, on feet that had been traipsing around London for four days, was brutal, to put it mildly. By the last half hour, I was silently pleading with Othello to just pick up the sword and start killing people. I survived, though, and despite the incredible pain in my feet, I enjoyed seeing a traditional performance of one of Shakespeare's masterpieces, just as it was performed there four hundred years ago.
Two days later, on Sunday, we left London and arrived in Stratford in time for a matinee performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Swan Theatre. Completely different from the production of Othello, I was not at all prepared for the liberties that they took with Shakespeare! To begin, only about half of the lines were given in the original English. The program said that the rest of the lines were given in a mixture of South Asian languages, and I assumed them to be Indian dialects, but I was never sure. This is one of my pet peeves - I hate when people refer to things like "Indian" and "African" as if they are languages, not geographical references to large numbers of ethnic groups. The play was infused with modern dance, and while the choreography was interesting, including some elaborate routines that involved acrobatics off of the sets and from ropes that hung over the stage, I found it distracting. Combined with the fact that it wasn't entirely in English, I thought that the experience was interesting and definitely not something that I would have attended at home, but I preferred the traditional production of Othello, sore feet and all.
The next day, Monday, was spent in Stratford-upon-Avon. We spent the morning visiting several of the Shakespearian attractions. We went to his birthplace, Holy Trinity Church (where he and his family are buried), Anne Hathaway's cottage, and Mary Arden's house. I wanted to hate most of it, since I thought it was ridiculous that Anne Hathaway's cottage and Mary Arden's house were included as historical sites. Anne Hathaway only lived in the cottage before she married Shakespeare, obviously, and the now sixteen-room home only had two rooms when she actually lived there. But when we arrived, I was struck by the beauty of the traditional thatched-roof cottage and especially, by the incredible garden, full of tulips and other brightly coloured flowers. Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother, and her house and the adjacent farm were, obviously, only her home before Shakespeare was even born. I wanted to hate that, too, because they were siphoning off all of this money from tourists when it was hardly even a legitimate claim. However, they had done a lot to keep it unique. It featured a working farm, and even several people in costume, demonstrating different things on the farm, like traditional food preparation. It was all very interesting, but a sudden rainstorm sent us running for the bus, and although I had a good time, I was happy to return to the town.
Stratford is a lovely town that has flourished because of the Shakespeare tourism draw, but overall, the town does not seem like a typical tourist trap. Although there are a lot of people and a handful of the typical fast food restaurants, the downtown area was lovely, and there was a wide variety of interesting shops. And - I found a café that served Brie sandwiches, and really, that is one of the quickest ways to my heart, besides chocolate chip cookies, which were nowhere to be found in England.
After all of this, I have to admit that I was a little Shakespeared out, but it was a great experience, and certainly not something I probably would have done if I had gone completely on my own. If nothing else, it was worth it for the fish'n'chips we were served for dinner on Sunday night after the play.