So I was thinking today about a future where we have people on the moon. You know, typically Friday afternoon stuff. Like you might read in a Robert Heinlein novel. I was talking about the next generation being the ones who might live on the moon, who might be the first to perform Romeo and Juliet on the …. wait a second.
How you gonna swear by yonder blessed moon when you’re standing on the fool thing?
For that matter, how is Hamlet going to ask Polonius, “You see that cloud?”
Here’s the game. Which of Shakespeare’s plays are going to need to do some editing once they’re performed on the moon? For bonus points, put on your director hat and tell us how you’re going to creatively get around those lines. Is Romeo going to swear by yonder blessed Saturn?
One of the biggest decisions to be made, when we started planning this vacation, was whether to see a show at the RSC or the Globe. I know, I know, people are screaming “Both!” at the screen right now, but let’s just agree that real-world considerations (time, money, not wanting to push my luck dragging my family to *too* much Shakespeare…) won out, and there would be one show.
But which? The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), if you’re not familiar, is in Stratford-upon-Avon, while Shakespeare’s Globe is in London. We planned to visit both cities, so we had a choice. People may wish to discuss my broad strokes here, but the way I figure it my choice came down to:
The RSC is where you see the best Shakespeare in the world. Depending on when we go we might even get to see some big-name Hollywood actors (and then maybe see them afterward at The Dirty Duck). The downside to that is if you’re not a reasonably serious fan of Shakespeare, the difference between “this is an outstanding show” and “I don’t understand what’s going on” will probably become apparent quickly.
Shakespeare’s Globe is intended as a tourist attraction, an exact recreation of the Globe as it was in Shakespeare’s day. You’ll sit where and how Shakespeare’s audience sat (right down to paying extra for a cushion), you’ll see his plays performed on his stage. I do not expect this to be the greatest Shakespeare I’ve ever seen. I expect this to be more of a “package deal” where the “Wow, we’re actually here!” factor plays heavily.
We decide to see a show at the Globe. Specifically, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My family is reasonably familiar with that one, and it’s a raucous comedy, so worst case scenario we’re all laughing ourselves silly all night. There are worse things.
The whole area of the city around the Globe is apparently loaded with historical landmarks, and I would have loved to go visit them all, but time was not on our side. We’d started the vacation with three days of nothing but Shakespeare, and now that we were in London and had a few Shakespeare free days, I didn’t think my family was in the mood to chase me around the streets of London just to see random “Here’s where a certain building stood 400 years ago!” signs.
I did, however, see something on the map that says “Shakespeare Mural.” I had no idea what that was and wanted to find it. I thought I had an idea? Turns out it was much, much better than I was expecting…
I hate that the tuba guy is there (even though his instrument was a flamethrower). But others have told me he adds character to the picture, so what can you do?
We get to the theatre early enough to sit around and have a drink, but not early enough to catch the last tour. That was my fault, I was riding that “I will not ask my family to do more Shakespeare stuff” thing harder than I should have, and by the time I mentioned the tour and they said, “Let’s go on it!” we’d missed it. Ah, well.
I take the opportunity while we’re sitting in the cafe to stuff a bunch of Shakespeare Geek stickers in with the napkins. I wonder if anybody found them? 🙂
We get inside, and at last, we’re here (with cushions!) There’s a pretty strict “no pictures while anyone is onstage” policy, which I saw enforced, so here’s the only picture I got:
That piñata hanging there tells the theme, which I’ll come back to in a moment.
We open as expected with Theseus and Hippolyta. Hippolyta is portrayed as an animal, literally shipped here in a box, bound and gagged and barely able to speak the language. The best way I can describe Theseus is … Eric Idle, from Monty Python. Trust me. If you’ve ever heard Eric Idle speak (and you no doubt have, he’s done a zillion voiceover things), this is our Theseus. He’s afraid of Hippolyta, he’s here for comic effect. Which is not a stretch, because as I soon learn, pretty much everything is here for comic effect. Everything is over the top, play to the audience.
We meet our youths, we get our plot, we head for the forest. Cue the fairies! Remember that piñata theme? In comes this New Orleans-style parade of monstrosities, like a cross between a walking pinata and that new show The Masked Singer. Some have really long draggy arms, some have weird monster eyes. Titania is not done up like that, she looks more like she’s straight out of Mardi Gras.
Our Puck is interesting. The costuming is nothing special, just a t-shirt and some deely-bopper antennae, but there’s a reason for that. The entire cast plays Puck. Huh? It took me a while to realize that they weren’t just doubling. As far as I could tell, at one point or another pretty much every member of the cast donned a Puck t-shirt for a scene or at least part of a scene. For the scene where Puck is looking for the flower (“I go, I go; look how I go, Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow.”) it worked well, like he’d cloned himself to go that many times faster. But in a later scene, the various Pucks are actually competing with each other to finish his lines. Definitely entertaining, but I’m not sure there was a bigger message or just a cool gimmick.
The funniest gimmick, speaking of, is the audience member they brought up on stage as one of the Mechanicals. This poor chap (Simon) mostly stood there, uncomfortable, while the cast all played off him like an improv game. And it was hysterical. At intermission my kids said to me, “Would you go up there if they grabbed you?” and I told them, “Yes, but I probably wouldn’t be as funny, because I’d be trying to play along with the play as I know it. The fact that this guy doesn’t know the play is half the fun.” When Bottom is translated and everybody runs away screaming, Simon just stands there. Even I’m in the audience yelling, “Run away, Simon! Run away!” And then Bottom gave him the cue: “Why do they run away? (run away, Simon! run away!) this is a knavery of them to make me afeard….” and he ran away.
Now let’s talk about Bottom, because if there’s something I didn’t like about the play, this was it. Not the actress’ performance, that was fine. I mean, there was nothing at all deep going on, just 100% playing to the audience. I’m talking about how obscene it got.
We talk about the dirty jokes in Shakespeare. We know that he had to deliver what the audience wanted, and we know that this troupe is playing up to that angle. But when you’ve got this many kids in the audience, I wonder about some of the decisions made…
Though it’s typically pointed out that Bottom is just given an ass’s head, he’s not completely transformed into a donkey, this time he’s done up head to toe in one of those piñata costumes so it’s hard to tell. Doubly so when he (I’m going to keep saying he, although it’s an actress playing the role, for reasons that are about to become obvious) reaches down between his legs and pulls out this…well, this long thing that’s dangling. I wonder whether that’s supposed to be a tail, then I remember that only his head is a donkey and think, “Oh, dear. Please don’t let the kids ask me about this.” We then see that there is a flute at the end of it, upon which he plays a tune. Then, just to drive the point fully home, he looks right at a member of the audience and says, “Whistle cock.”
(Sidebar – I thought, “Huh??? Why don’t I remember this?” and when I was able, I went back to the script:
I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid. Sings The ousel cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill,
The throstle with his note so true,
The wren with little quill,–
*sigh* I guess? Maybe that’s a one-off joke? Oh, how mistaken I was about to be.
Let’s just jump to where Titania and Bottom meet, and she’s taken by the size of his … instrument. She tries (?) to play her own tune on it, does so poorly, then announces, “It’s been a while” and moves on. I’m wondering at that point whether she was as uncomfortable as the parents in the audience. Not to mention any music teachers, who were no doubt thinking “That’s not what you do with your tongue.”
Don’t worry, it gets worse. You know that scene where Bottom is just fully into the whole “Ok, I guess these fairies are going to do everything I tell them” thing? This whole scene has taken place in a big dumpster, by means of a prop. It’s where Titania originally fell asleep, it’s where she takes him for whatever it is they’re doing, and it’s where they are when the fairies are … waiting on him. Except whatever they’re all doing to him is rather exciting. Building to a climax, even. Suddenly a jet of some unidentified liquid comes shooting forth! Everybody gets uncomfortable (nay, grossed out) and the scene continues.
There’s more of that sort of humor, but that was the worst of it. In the big scene at the end, when Wall comes out (played by a woman), you can make a guess where they decided to put the chink that Pyramus and Thisbe have to put their lips against. Stuff like that. I don’t want to sound like a prude. My kids are old enough now that they understood what was going on. And it’s not like I saw many 10yr olds running around among the groundlings. Shakespeare and people could do bawdy. I just didn’t expect it to be quite so graphic.
Overall it was exactly what I expected (except for the obscene parts). It was all about the audience, all about making sure they get the joke and laugh. Nothing was subtle. My family enjoyed it, that’s the important part. We got to see the Globe. Quality of performance aside, I think that if I’d chosen RSC at the expense of not seeing the inside of the Globe, I would have regretted it.
One quick story before I go! We had excellent seats, front row of the top section. We filled the row except for one seat, taken by this young woman who was there by herself. She told us that she’s a graduate student (though not in Shakespeare), and that her studies allow her to get to London regularly enough that she’s been to see a show at the Globe four times. She apparently had some sort of social media presence of her own, because when I saw her trying to take a bunch of selfies and offered to get a picture for her, she told me that the selfie angle was part of her signature style. But she did have me take a few. She then took a few of my family, which came out nice but of course I can’t post here. She said she’d never been to Stratford, so I pulled out some pictures we’d taken earlier in the week, and she was suitably jealous. 🙂
Before leaving I gave her one of my Shakespeare Geek stickers. Never did catch her name, but if you ended up following me and you’re reading this, hello!
Of all the things on our list to do, the most random was one I discovered on my own. Apparently Sir Ian McKellen owns a pub called The Grapes. And sometimes he’s even there. I told my kids about this. What I actually told my kids was, “Ok, I don’t expect there’s any version of our story that results in me meeting Ian McKellen. I’m just saying that, if we do? I will fangirl so hard you will forget you know me. I will scream like I’m watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.” They don’t really get that last reference, but the point is valid.
London’s a big city, and we’ve got lots to see. The idea of saying to my family, “Hey, after Buckingham Palace, how about we go find this random pub that may or may not be huge?” just doesn’t seem to ever come up. At night, though, I get on Google Maps and I look to see where it is. It’s a bit of a hike from “stuff”. I see no obvious “Hey, while we’re in the neighborhood, oh look at this place!” opportunity.
Until we take our boat ride on the Thames, and the tour guide actually brings up The Grapes as one of the tourist attractions. We can’t see it from our trip, but it’s in everybody’s mind now. The next day when we’re at the Tower of London I bring it up on my phone and it *looks* close, but not really close enough that we want to go on an adventure. But that night I do figure out the nearest tube (subway) stop, so I have that info. Google tells me that it’s 8 minutes from that stop.
Long story short the kids convince my wife that we should go for it, because despite not being a “real” tourist attraction, this is the kind of thing I came here to see. So they green light the adventure and we’re off. We get off at our stop, immediately have no idea where to go next, ask somebody. He shows us a map that shows our destination outside the “15 minute walk” window and tells us it’s more like 20 minutes, and that we should take the bus. We have not had luck with busses so far so I suggest we walk.
We walk outside and immediately forget everything the guy told us. I’ve long said that my achilles’ heel is “directions while in a building.” People say things like, “Ok, you’re gonna go out here and you’re gonna take a left” and I’m already lost, because I go outside and there’s a whole central square outside and at least half a dozen possible answers to “take a left”.
We ask a policeman who says, “Oh, Ian McKellen’s place?” he’s the first person that knows it. Tells us that it’s at least a half hour walk. That number keeps going up. We’re convinced now to take the bus. But he also tells us that Sir Ian is there frequently, and that he himself (the officer) had walked in to get a drink and had that, “Wait, did Gandalf just pour my beer?” moment. Says he’s got Gandalf’s staff up in a case over the bar.
We get on the bus we’ve been told. You know what else you’re supposed to know other than the bus number? The direction. After a few stops I get it into my head that we are going the wrong way. So we get off, cross the street, intend to get on a bus the other way. We ask the driver if this one will be going where we’re going. He says he’s never heard of it – the place, or the street. Great. I’m showing him a map. He says to try a different bus.
We get on a different bus. Again, a few stops in, conversation with another rider, we’re told we’re going the wrong way. Again, I try to ask the driver, driver has no idea what we’re looking for. Keep in mind that every time we get on and off the bus it’s taking money off our “oyster cards”, I have no idea when they’re going to run out, with no way to refill them in the middle of nowhere, and we’re lost. Flag down a taxi? They don’t always take credit, and I don’t know how much cash it’d be to get back home. Uber? My international data connection is far from stable enough to rely on that.
Of course, ou know what family’s do in situations like this. We’re hungry, we’re tired, we’re lost. So we’re fighting. Do we keep going? Do we go home? How do we even begin to do either? It’s not a good day. I’ve long since given up the possibility of finding the place, because even if we do find it, unless Gandalf himself comes out to greet us, I doubt it’s going to live up to the effort we’re putting in. It’s been a few hours now.
A bus driver has suggested to us that we’re walking distance to a police station, so we start walking that way. We walk past an Indian restaurant where a man has come out for a smoke, so we give it on last try. “Two minutes down this road,” he says, walking around the corner of his restaurant. “Sir Ian’s place.” Gives us very specific directions, walk past the green building, etc… Really? We were that close the whole time? Amazing. Still don’t know how we’ll get home, but at least we’ve achieved our goal.
We’re walking our last mile (so to speak), and I think the whole fam is still thinking “yeah, sure” but as we pass all the milestones the guy told us I’m thinking this has to be it, this has to be it. And lo and behold, look at the sign I see?
It’s smaller than I expected. I think I thought it was its own building. But that doesn’t matter. After taking our pictures I head for the door – but first cope out the ubiquitous posted menu, to plan ahead for what kind of food my kids will eat. It is 3pm.
A sign on the other side of the menu says “Absolutely no under 18s.” I almost die, but I go into denial instead and figure that perhaps that’s a “at night when it’s a bar” thing.
“Kitchen’s closed,” says a man standing outside smoking.
I wish I had a better ending for the story. I have a few moments of disbelief, most of the “My wife is gonna kill me” variety. The man is quite nice, suggesting other places we might try. We tell him that we’re American tourists who really came all this way specifically to see this place. He tells us that “Ian’s out filming” anyway. We end up walking all the way back to the tube station (which, after the variety of “bus going in the wrong direction” missteps, wasn’t all that far away) and having dinner back in more familiar ground. Never even went in. I kind of wish I at least went in, to see the inside. I wonder if the dude was lying, like some sort of gatekeeper, and Sir Ian was there at the bar. I know of course he wasn’t, but you never know, you know? I was just so dejected, the last thing I wanted to do was walk in, looking like a fool who wasn’t going to stay for a drink or get any food, seeing nothing even remotely resembling “this is a place where you want to take pictures of stuff.”
On Instagram and Facebook some followers were saying, “That’s my local place!” and “Ian is always there.” I said, “Next time you see him, tell him Shakespeare Geek was looking for him!”
So we head out of Stratford-upon-Avon to continue our adventures in London, but fear not! Just like the man himself, our Shakespeare adventure does not stop just because we’ve left home. There’s more to come!
This part of the trip is the family trade-off. They put up with my stuff, now I put up with theirs. We see all the touristy stuff – Kensington Palace, Windsor Palace, Buckingham Palace … you get the idea 🙂 I’m spending my time looking for possible Shakespeare connections, of course. Which, to be honest, I feel a bit bad for. The story of Queen Victoria does sound very interesting, it’s just that I have no investment in that story like I do with Shakespeare’s time. I like doing things where I feel like I’m adding to my knowledge — but if I start with “I know nothing about this”, then it can go the other way and just make me feel stupid. It’s hard to go from three days of “Yes, I probably know just a wee bit more about this than the typical tourist” to “Tell me again which queen lived here?”
But London is not without its Shakespeare. I spot one family tree in one castle that starts with James I and I think, “Oo! I know that name!”
We head for The Eye, which is a giant ferris wheel, because we’re tourists and that’s just what you do. I am a bit intrigued because a see a sign that suggests we will be able to see The Globe from the top, but we do not (I have misunderstood the sign). For the curious, I didn’t find it all it was cracked up to be. If you’re thinking “I’ve been on ferris wheels before, and this is a big one” think again. You are in an enclosed capsule, which makes sense as we don’t want people falling out or jumping. But it’s an enclosed capsule that is big enough to hold, oh, 20-30 people. And an entire ride around takes over 30 minutes. So a ride on The Eye is really more like standing around in a room with 30 strangers and looking out the window for half an hour.
We take a boat ride on the Thames after our ferris wheel ride, and finally I get to see my Globe!
Animatedly I point it out to the kids and tell them that’s where we’ll be going soon. The tour guide points it out as well, telling the story about how the money for seats would be placed in a box, and then those boxes would be taken to the office, which is where we get the term “box office”.
The next day we visit the Tower of London and I get in a few more Shakespeare references as our Beefeater (how do you capitalize that?) guide tells us the story of the various famous people that have lived and died here. He gets to the Duke of Gloucester and asks if anybody knows what name we know him as. “Richard III!” I call out.
“Richard III, very good!” he calls back in response. “A historian!”
“A Shakespearean!” I retort.
Later I go hunting for evidence of the young princes emprisoned and killed in the tower, but can find none. Apparently there’s some sort of marker telling the story, but I did not see even that. I did, however, find ravens. Before we left for the trip someone told me the story of the ravens in the Tower of London, and how “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” I expected this story to be written down somewhere, and it was. I expected to see some caged ravens, and I did. But I also spotted some just sort of hanging out, too, which I thought was pretty cool.
As you can see, I was stretching for Shakespeare references during our London time. We took some bus tours and they did point out some potential Shakespeare references, but they were so small and few and far between that I’ve forgotten most of them. We did see Westminster Abbey and I did search Poet’s Corner, but it was such a zoo and we were rushed through at such a pace, I feel like I probably missed a number of cool things. I specifically tried to find Laurence Olivier (once I saw that he was there!) but could not. And if I’d known David Garrick was there I think I would have sought him out, too. (For the record, Scientist’s Corner was much more interesting – seeing Stephen Hawking next to Isaac Newton was an emotional moment on par with seeing Shakespeare’s grave.)
I love posing with statues. With a painting or something that most you can really do is stand next to it. But with statues you can interact, you can climb on them, crowd around them, pose with them, sit and read a book with them. I’m happy that Statford-upon-Avon is littered with statues of Shakespeare characters. There should be a treasure map for tourists like me to see them all out and get a prize.
Welcome to Henley Street!
Not gonna lie, this is the first statue I saw and while I was excited that things were getting real, I also kind of thought, “…eh. All I get is a fool?” As far as I can tell he was representing all the fools, as there were quotes from several plays adorning the base. I think a specific fool with a specific quote would have made me happier.
Then I saw something that made me very happy.
There’s the man himself. Love that he’s way up high, overlooking his domain. The kids even recognized this one, saying, “This is the statue from Gnomeo and Juliet! He talks!” I didn’t even make the connection.
But! The animated version doesn’t give us the good stuff. What’s Shakespeare looking at? At the four corners of the statue are his greatest creations…
My kids all chose their “spirit animals” here. I have one Lady Macbeth, one Falstaff and one Hamlet. I actually had to come back around for that Hamlet picture, I realized the first night that I hadn’t gotten a solo one of him (just one with the kids). Glad I did, I love that picture.
I posted a few of these on social media at the time and one of my Twitter followers added a picture of her own – with a statue I hadn’t seen! I had to have it. My wife was all, “I know right where that is, we walked right by it.” ?! Dude!! Back out we go. Found him!
I actually had to kick some little kids off of him to get this picture. 🙂
Shakespeare Birthplace Garden
The garden outside the Birthplace is adorned with all sort of gifts commemorating Shakespeare’s contemporaries from around the world. I took this picture specifically for Bardfilm, who I know has an interest in Shakespeare and Asian culture.
But if you want Shakespeare statues, New Place is the place to be.
First of all we saw this guy, and I audibly exclaimed, “I know this one! I’ve seen it! This is where this is?”
Then it got weird. What follows are these very interesting interpretations of the plays. I had to get them all, but now I really wish I’d labeled them better because I can’t begin to tell you which play is which. We actually played the game of trying to guess them, and my son was really good at it – until right at the end when we discovered that he was running ahead and looking at the nameplates, the little cheater.
I think the nose gives this one away! Julius Caesar
Falstaff was fascinating. I actually took a video, I just can’t figure out how to post it. Falstaff is split down the middle. This is one side.
And here’s the other!
I can’t remember who this poor soul is. There’s a nameplate right at the bottom but I can’t read it. Is he holding the swords or being pierced by them? I’m tempted to say Hamlet – it looks like he’s holding a skull – but the face is pretty old for Hamlet.
At first glance I want to say Ariel escaping the cloven pine, but The Tempest comes later on the walk. It turns out this is The Winter’s Tale, which completely wrecks my subject line because I guess we found a Hermione after all! I had forgotten all about this one when I started the post.
No guess at all. Seriously. Can’t even find somewhere to start. Anybody?
Too easy. Well shone, Moon!
This feels like Hamlet to me, but I can’t be sure.
Last but not least we have … any guesses? The Tempest.
Our Revels Now Are Ended
This post represents the last of our time in Stratford. From here we move on to London, where there’ll be some Shakespeare content (including a review of our visit to The Globe!) but Thursday morning we say goodbye to the land of Shakespeare and head in to the big city.
Did we see everything we wanted to? Could I ever? I could come back again and agan and see something new every day. I’m reminded now of a quote from Peter Brook, “Each line in Shakespeare is an atom. The energy that can be released is infinite—if we can split it open.” That’s how I look for Shakespeare in the world around me. Maybe it’s getting to see a whole show, or tour the back stage. Maybe it’s statues of Shakespeare’s most famous heroes, or a line of rowboats with names like Viola and Ophelia, or the Falstaff Hotel or a streetsign for Lysander Lane. Maybe it’s yon cloud that looks like a weasel. I’m always looking for the Shakespeare around me, and that’s why Shakespeare makes life better. Because when I find it, I feel connected to something much, much bigger than I am. For a few days there I got to swim in the deep end of the pool, and I didn’t come close to hitting the bottom.