My Shakespearean Weekend

This past weekend I immersed myself in Shakespeare’s world. Saturday I was at Shakespeare’s Globe for the final performance of Richard III for this season. Starring Mark Rylance as Richard, and supported by an all-male cast, it was also presented in the original pronunciation.

I went by myself, my in-laws apparently not being fans of Richard, and I will proudly state here for the record that I did not get lost either too-ing or fro-ing (in fact I even made it to a yarn shop near Waterloo Station without incident). I grabbed a quick lunch–a quinoa salad that was surprisingly palatable–and got into line with all the other groundlings. When they let us in I headed for the back wall so I could lean on it if I got tired during the performance. That turned out to be a good decision because even before the play started it rained. I only got a little wet because I was somewhat protected by the roof. Since weather was one of the things the groundlings had to contend with during Shakespeare’s time the rain could not have been more perfect for someone who wanted to steep themselves in the world of Shakespeare.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York

From the very first lines I was captivated. Mark Rylance played Richard as a villain but with humor. He had the audience on his side by his asides. (There is a marvelous review here.) Having never seen the play except on film, the interactiveness was a revelation to me. Richard was not the only character to appeal to the audience. At different times we were encouraged to cheer and boo by different players.

I had thought that men playing the women’s roles might be bothersome, but it wasn’t. They were fabulous. It took me most of the play to realize that they also doubled as men (the Duchess of York was also Richmond). In fact, many of the players had multiple parts, which explained why I had a hard time figuring out who everyone was. I go by faces and apparently you have to go by costumes to keep track of who is who.

As was the custom in Elizabethan times, the play ended with a dance. I suppose that allows even a grim tragedy such as Richard III to end on an up note.

The experience of seeing one of Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe was incredible. The rain, the birds flying through, the music (there was a small “band” above the stage), the costumes–which were Elizabethan even though Richard III was not–all combined to make me feel that I had entered Shakespeare’s world. Except for the occasional helicopter and the plastic rain ponchos, I could have been in 16c London.

My Shakespearean weekend continued on Sunday when I went to the British Museum to see the Shakespeare: Staging the World exhibit. My sister-in-law bought the tickets several months ago and we had prepared for this by listening to a series of podcasts called Shakespeare’s Restless World available on iTunes. Each episode runs just under fourteen minutes and I recommend them highly even if you can’t get to the exhibit. We spent over two hours viewing artifacts from the Elizabethan world that gave context for Shakespeare’s plays. Items were as diverse as a knitted cap, John Dee’s black obsidian mirror, and a reliquary that contained an eyeball. (All together now: ewwwwww.)

What better to top this up with than a Shakespearean lunch? This was available at the museum restaurant. I had spinach and egg pie and also lamb faggots (pictured). They were delicious. And no, the beer in the picture was NOT Shakespearean. Oh well. I drank it anyway.

Next we joined a group of about twenty people on aLondon’s Walk that was about Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London. It was rambling and disconnected, more anecdotal than informative–and not really enough about Shakespeare and Dickens.

We walked past a place where Shakespeare lived on Silver Street (now renamed but I don’t remember what) and the churchyard where the two gentlemen who put together the first folio were buried and where this commemorative statue resides.

I did learn an awful lot about how London grew and for a while I was able to see ghosts of Tudor buildings superimposed on the glass and concrete that now stand in their place. Fire, blitz, and time have changed London but the bones of the old city are there if you know where to look.