What’s a study in Shakespeare if we don’t get the chance to stretch our legs and try out some of Shakespeare’s scenes for ourselves. At the beginning of the course the class was divided into four groups, and each group was given one of the plays we were studying to research and focus on. Today we got the chance to present small scenes from the shows we were assigned. It was great after two weeks of seeing shows to get on our feet and try some for ourselves, and Wroxton’s grounds made the perfect setting. The scenes are in order:
Henry IV Part 2: Cory Warren; Sean Morrissey; Steph Bonewald and Danielle DelGreco
Titus Andronicus: Evyn Whiteley; Maggie Bogan; Mckenzie Bergan; and Nate Gabel
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Michelle Kazanowski; Lucia Thomas; Richie Bernache; and Brianna Kress
As You Like It: Russell Hammond; Mayrose Gravalec-Pannone; Laura Kujawa; and Karleen Richardson
One of my favorite parts of Shakespeare’s work is its adaptability to modern audiences. So much of this is because much of what Shakespeare wrote still has significant influence on playwrights and screenplay writers today. Such an example is As You Like It, which we saw last night at the Theatre Royal in Winchester. In the show the leading lady Rosalind is exiled to the woods, where she must live as man. There she encounters the man she loves, Orlando, and teaches him how to properly woo a lady. We see echoes of this in modern movies like She’s the Man (a personal favorite) but moreso this play invites discussion into gender roles and stereotypes that have become a hot issue. In class we discussed the implications about gender written into the script, making As You Like It seem way ahead of its time.
I was excited going into the show and was pleased to see that the actress playing Rosalind really stole the show for me. A strong female character is a rare find in Elizabethan Drama, and so it was great to see this actress bring such strength, wit, humor, and humility to the character of Rosalind and her male alter ego Ganymede. As she stepped forward to deliver the epilogue, I was totally captivated by how conversational she managed to make the Shakespearean verse sound. As an actor, sometimes we develop small acting crushes on people in shows we see that are particularly strong, and this was the case for me. While the show in comparison to the grandeur and flash of the Globe and the RSC was much more quaint and homey, it had it’s own unique charm and sense of community throughout. Where the Globe and RSC bring in thousands of guests (and pounds) each week, As You Like It felt more like a show created to give a fun, light hearted night to its audiences, leaving everyone with a smile on their face at the end of the night.
Last night we shuffled into the Globe Theatre one last time to see the opening performance of Deafinitely Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in British Sign Language. As Midsummer is one of my all time favorite Shakespeare shows, I was excited to see what this production had in store.
With much of the original text removed the cast found the beauty of Shakespeare’s work in their movement. Their signing became a dance that flowed across the stage in the case of the fairies, and was staggered, exaggerated, and hilarious in the case of the lovers and the mechanicals. While there were moments where I struggled to understand exactly where in script we were, it was touching to see members of the deaf community that made up a large portion of the crowd, fully experience a piece of theatre in the way that we are used to. Yes cuts were made, characters were altered, and in many ways the plot was changed in ways that I did not expect, but this production is living proof that theatre transcends handicaps, and can be used to bring people who come from all kinds of different communities together to laugh and cry at the same moments.
After what seemed like endless days of mist and drizzle, the skies finally cleared for our day trip to Blenheim Palace, giving us a chance to relax after a busy and exhausting day in London. Blenheim is the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and is steeped in English History. Inside is exhibits on the palace history, and it is also the film site for Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Hamlet.
For me, I couldn’t help but stay outside for almost the entire day. It was so beautiful out and the gardens at Blenheim were so breathtaking that I had to have a day out in the grass. After walking the grounds I sat down to watch a couple of innings (?) of cricket (not quite sure what the term would be there). While I had absolutely no idea what was going on it was great to just spend a day out in the sun.
Our first day in London was spent wandering the city, doing a lot, and I mean a lot of walking so as we filed into the Globe Theatre for Titus Andronicus my feet had already started to ache. Now in true Groundling style we would be standing throughout the performance…. the entire three hour performance.
And I loved every second of it.
Being on the floor level meant total immersion in the show. Actors would carry the Roman leaders and lead characters throughout the floor area on metal platforms, herding, and at times shoving audience members aside in order to clear a path. To me it was like I was a Roman peasant watching as the nobility struggled for power and revenge, and I was totally enthralled by it. During the show we were showered in confetti, had fake wine poured over our heads, and a few unlucky classmates were standing in the blood splash zone.
Titus is known for being Shakespeare’s goriest show by far, and the Globe production stayed true to this. Each death (and if you haven’t read or seen it, there are a lot of deaths) got bloodier and more disturbing as Titus’ madness and need for revenge grew. However in our class discussions we talked about the extreme nature of this show, and how it can often be viewed at as a parody of the tragic genre as a whole. The Globe really honed in on this and it was my favorite part of the production. The pairing of comedic acting and violent and disturbing murders created an interesting commentary on mankind’s enjoyment in violence. In the days of Rome, gladiators fought to the death in the Colosseum. In Elizabethan England, people could view public executions. Today we have violent video games, TV shows, and books toping best seller lists across the globe. Shakespeare may have written Titus as a way to force audiences to think about their obsession with violence, and it has stayed relevant even to today.
In all, Titus was the most immersive, most disturbing, and yet strongly enlightening and thought provoking pieces of theatre I have seen thus far. I can’t help but agree with reviewers, five stars.
On Tuesday we travelled to Oxford for a little bit of home away from home, Saint Edmund’s Hall at Oxford University. One of the most interesting parts about being in England is the difference between what constitutes a long period of history here as compared to back in the States. In the U.S. one hundred years makes up a third of our nation’s history, whereas in England a hundred years doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. So much of what we have seen here is several hundred years old, including the college we are living in. The same can be said for Saint Edmund’s Hall at Oxford, a college named after the same saint the Edmundites at Saint Michael’s originate from. While touring the college we had the chance to tour the buildings that stood on the grounds when Saint Edmund was a teacher there, and see the chapel he donated to the college.
Afterwards, the day was ours and we choose to spend it walking outside of where many of the Oxford Colleges are located, stopping in books stores and map shops along the way. We even found some time to be true tourists, shopping for Oxford t-shirts and sweatshirts. My favorite purchase of the day would have to be my miniature model of a London double decker bus. With our last hour or so of time a group of stopped in at a pub called the Eagle and Child, a historic restaurant known to be a favorite writing spot for both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Now, as someone who has read a decent amount a Shakespeare, both in the past and in the past semester, I knew that Shakespeare’s histories were not my favorite plays to read. So I was majorly surprised by how much I loved the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry IV parts 1 and 2. It breathed life into the characters that I had never imagined while reading the script. Of the performances Henry IV Part 1 was definitely my favorite, for two reasons; the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff, and the absolutely gorgeous way the set was lit. Now as an actor myself, there is nothing better to me than a strong relationship between two actors on stage. Hal and Falstaff had a chemistry that was incredibly hilarious, truthful, and eventually heartbreaking. In our discussion prior to the show, we discussed the possibility of Hal and Falstaff’s frienship being primarily motivated by self interest. After seeing the RSC interpretation however, we saw a totally different side. Falstaff seemed to fill the space of Hal’s true father (King Henry IV) who Hal seemed to be totally afraid of. It was hard not to watch the two of them act together and not smile and laugh along with them.
The lighting in the show was absolutely spectacular, especially during the battle scene (which I described to my friends back home as being like Shakespearean Game of Thrones). The stage was constructed primarily of rafters and this combined with the haze used created the illusion of morning sun coming through the windows, or added nobility to Hal’s entrance on the battlefield. I’ve attached a few promotional shots so that you all can get a feel for what I’m saying!
Overall, the shows were some of the best Shakespeare I’ve seen, and by far my favorite history. While I did like Part one in particular, Part 2 did serve as a beautiful counterpart to the first show!.
After spending a day at Wroxton, us Saint Mike’s kids were ready to start exploring England, starting with Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford upon Avon! The day consisted mostly of touring the three places tied closely to Shakespeare in Stratford, his tomb, his home, and his birthplace. It was amazing to have the chance to be in a place with so much history, and tied so closely to a man that we have been studying so closely the past few months. We were even lucky enough to return here twice in order to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC for short) productions of Henry IV parts 1 and 2.
By spending so much time here we got the chance to not only see the historic landmarks that made up Shakespeare’s life, but we were also able to speak with locals at pubs, grab a meat pie at the riverside market, and just take time to experience the city. After seeing the first part of Henry IV, we were lucky enough to catch all of our favorite actors on their way into the second performance. For a group of theatre goers like us, it was a lot like running into celebrities on the street. (In fact Maggie Bogan actually did run into the actor playing Poins in Henry IV on our way to the bus after the show, creating a rather awkward and hilarious way to leave Stratford for the last time) Look out for a review of Henry IV parts one and two coming next!
After a long night of travel 16 Saint Michael’s students arrived at the beautiful Wroxton College near Banbury England. Not even our jet lag (we arrived at the college at 6am Eastern Standard Time, 11am UK time) could detract from the awe of our first glimpse at the historical abbey that would be our home for the next two weeks. After settling in our rooms we had our first meal in the “Buttery” our dining hall for the duration of the trip. After a very confusing conversation during which many of the students felt as we were eating dinner (we were all pretty tired and confused at this point) we realized that this was just the start of our day.
After lunch we met in the Regency Room, a beautiful space (see walking tour for images) where our orientation was held. After getting acquainted with college policies we began our tour of the college. I’ve created a video walking tour that shows some of the highlights of the college, so make sure to be on the lookout for that! (Coming soon, in fact my computer is currently finalizing the video). After the tour not many of us had much energy left, and many settled in for a late afternoon nap. I was lucky enough to get some sleep on the plane ride, and was ready to explore the Wroxton grounds. A sprawling 50 acres, there are plenty of beautiful sights to be seen around the college. So beautiful in fact that myself and four other students braved the copious amounts of English mud to explore the grounds. See the gallery for a few highlights!
Once I was familiar with the college inside and out, even I was exhausted and settled i for an early night, excited and ready for the days that were ahead of me.