England V: In which I am introduced to the Poet of the Globe

10 March.

That could only mean one thing–

Besides that it was Thursday, my favorite day of the week, it was also SHAKESPEARE DAY.

SHAKESPEARE DAY meant I could recite lines from Hamlet and no one could stop me. It was the most appropriate time to act fanciful and relish in the world of Shakespeare’s histories (which were totally relevant to our trip to the Tower of London) and obsess over every fact I knew about his plays.

SHAKESPEARE DAY meant I could purchase anything I wanted, as nerdy as I wanted, and prance around the little courtyard between the Globe and the Thames after crossing THAT BRIDGE in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The Movie sighing, “Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy! He hath borne me on his back a thousand times. And now, my gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips I kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were want to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chapfallen? Now, get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick–to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that.”

‘Twere to consider too curiously to consider so.

The “ALAS POOR YORICK” speech above comes from a scene in which Hamlet famously holds up the skull of the long-dead jester and ponders what death means for people–particularly famous and historically significant ones like Alexander the Great, who have now turned to dust. And who knows where that dust may be once mixed with the earth– “stopping a bunghole?” In someone’s mouth? And this speech gave David Foster Wallace the inspiration to title his novel “Infinite Jest” and to call Jim Incandenza’s film company “Poor Yorick” productions.

Hal, the main character, nods to Hamlet, as does his “usurper” uncle Charles (nod to Claudius) who marries his mother after his father’s untimely death.

Hamlet does not hold a skull while he gives his “TO BE OR NOT TO BE” soliloquy, as is often misinterpreted.

… NO. 

And speaking of misinterpretations…here come some of my journal entries on SHAKESPEARE DAY.

Burnt down in a fire in the 1600s, Shakespeare’s original Globe does not stand. The replica is not even in the same place…HOWEVER…it is as close a replica as London could find and configure.

Around this point in the journal I start describing what I ate for breakfast, our tour guide Tim walking us across the Thames on the Millennium bridge and how one of our England-mates accidentally ended up at a gay bar the night before. 

Then it was there–thither–so close to behold and I started getting antsy… THE. GLOBE. THEATRE. Our tour guide was SO awesome and I don’t even remember his name. But he knew lots of

  1. misunderstandings about the Globe
  2. Truths about the Globe
  3. Shakespeare quotes.

The Globe is not an exact replica but the builders tried to make it as accurate as possible. There are pieces of evidence that were used such as other building plans, the proportions of Tudor-era staircases and such things. In particular, the replicators looked at building plans for a theatre during Shakespeare’s day which was said to want to be in exact design to the Globe. The Globe is a theatre of circular design — a 99ft diameter circle with a stage at one end that is 43 ft. by 27 ft. Around the edges of the theatre are three levels of seats. The very rich would have sat high up or to the sides of the stage, or even directly above the stage on the balcony.

Does this sound silly? Well it isn’t. Not on SHAKESPEARE DAY.

The rich didn’t have to necessarily see the performance–they expected that actors would come perform to them. They sat in areas where they didn’t have to see well but expected that actors would never turn their backs on their patrons. This is because the very rich were educated and had a vast understanding of language, whereas the working class and the poor would have to rely more heavily on sight to understand what was going on.

“Audience” means listeners. Plays were mainly for listening, not for visuals, unless you were less educated and did not understand what was being spoken. Our Guide suggested that it was possible the plays in which Shakespeare wrote were dependent on the stage in which they would be performed. Perhaps he knew the different social classes in which the people attending his plays were from and he paired complex dialogue with simpler text but which was really saying the same thing.

Another difference was the modern/historical theatre complex. In modern theatre, we sit in darkness and watch as well as listen to an elaborate show. In the Globe, which is an open-air theatre, shows can only be performed during daylight, which is obviously provided by the open roof, but the light also provided opportunity for the actors to see their audience. This meant the performance was not confined to the stage, but could be played TO the audience.

They will turn and face difference parts of the audience and declare–‘Friends. Romans. Countrymen.’ They will speak monologues with us, not mumble to themselves.

In one production of Romeo and Juliet, a woman from the audience cried out– “she’s not dead!” just as the actor playing Romeo was about to kill himself, and instead of ignoring her he reached down and took Juliet’s pulse, and then began to cry–and the audience with him. It sounds like an amazing experience.

Finally, we learned about some stage signals that are no longer used in acting, such as entering the left stage with a left arm raised meant the character was evil, or if a character drew a line down the left side of the face it meant the character was having an evil thought. A hand over the heart and another hand extended in a claw means warding-off-evil (but I already knew that thanks to Percy Jackson and use it vehemently).

In Shakespeare’s day, building relied heavily on the ideas of divine geometry and harmonics (the relationship between science, nature, and music) and so if some building was constructed using divine geometry in it, it was thought that it would naturally allow sound to travel well and enhance the performance and other such things.

The stage was painted in ridiculous, tacky colors–

this was accurate.

Elizabethans would have painted their homes extravagantly in bright colors to make them appear elegant and eye pleasing. So the columns on the stage and parts of the back wall were made to look as though they were marble (when in fact, it was wood). The entire theater should have been done this way…no beam left untouched… but Tour Guide said that it is likely people wouldn’t come to see the Globe if they did not think the tacky painting was accurate. Likewise, when the Globe was built, it was constructed using the exact materials and tactics the Elizabethans would have used, including the practice of building by cutting thick pieces of oak for beams and fitting them together with wooden pegs. The frame was filled with plaster but the beams on the outside of the building were left uncovered by plaster even though in Shakespeare’s day that would not have been so. However, our Tour Guide said in a rather bitter tone that if the building had been made completely white and no timbers were left exposed, they would not think it was a true Elizabethan building and would not come see it.

Thus, it was a marketing technique, he said. But it was also a folly.

The thatched roof was accurate, too– the only one left in London.

There isn’t much to say about the Shakespeare exhibition, which was like a small museum connected to the theatre. Here are some pictures of folios and ancient printing presses.

And have a few Hamlet quotes, too. (Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play besides Othello).

ACT V, Scene I: OPHELIA’S FUNERAL (and the subject of the movie my friends and I made in AP English, senior year)

Laertes: What ceremony else? …Lay her i’ th’ earth, and from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring. I tell thee, churlish priest, a ministering angel shall my sister be when thou liest howling in th’ earth.

Hamlet: What is this whose grief bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wandering stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I, Hamlet the Dane!

Laertes: THE DEVIL TAKE THY SOUL!

(They fight in Laertes’ sister’s grave).

Hamlet: Thou pray’st not well. I prithee, take they fingers from thy throat, for though I am not splentative and rash, yet I have in me something dangerous, which let thy wisdom fear…Hold off thy hand! 

(Claudius randomly joins in): Pluck them asunder!

(Horatio randomly shouts to Hamlet): Good my lord, be quiet!

Hamlet: I will fight him until my eyelids no longer wag upon this theme. I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

Claudius: OH, he is mad, Laertes.

Thank you for your irrelevance, Claudius.

ANYWAY…

LATER…I bought myself a bunch of things from the OLDE SHOPPE WHERE ONE EXCHANGES SUNBEAM GOLD FOR GIFTS including an “Alas, Poor Yorick!” T-Shirt and poster which lists every. single. phrase. that originally came from Shakespeare but which we now use in modern language.

The English Language is a funny and fabulously interesting thing.

SHAKESPEARE DAY!

My shirt. The eyeballs have little clovers in them.

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