Sorry that my blog has fallen by the wayside! I kept meaning to update this as I finished out my year abroad, but somehow it just didn’t happen.
In April, I embarked on a four-day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. The supposed birthplace of the most famous English writer, the town is full of Shakespeare sites and memorabilia. Though we had plenty of time to wander around the cute town, we quickly realized that for those who didn’t like Shakespeare kitsch the town was a little bare. We found a few cute shops, but most of the stores were chains that had branches in Exeter. Bummer!
We went to Stratford to see plays at the recently re-opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Closed for renovations for a large part of our time here, it was interesting to be in a relatively new building for all of the plays. Our seats—I must admit—were not always the best; building a theatre in the style of The Globe has its drawbacks. However, the performances more than made up for uncomfortable neck craning!
We arrived mid-afternoon with enough time to check into the hotel bed and breakfast. Because we took up nearly every room in the B&B it felt a little bit more like camp than a tourist trip. Samantha and I were lucky enough to stay in a room with a fabulous window. The Elizabethan exteriors of the hotels across the street were lovely to look at as we attempted homework. We felt a little rushed to get food so we settled on one of the first places that we saw—an Italian diner called Carluccio’s. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to eat much, since I don’t eat wheat, but lo and behold they had a gluten-free menu! I’m sure that I’ve talked about this in previous posts but it never ceases to amaze me how celiac/allergy friendly this country is. Most places that I’ve been have gluten free options on the menu and are very aware of what allergy sufferers require. Our meal was lovely! I had the basil pesto corn pasta, followed by an espresso &chocolate drink. I gave into my cravings for dessert as well and ordered vanilla gelato with amaretto on top. The restaurant provided the best meal most of us had eaten out in a long time!
When the check came hilarity ensued. English majors trying to split the bill never goes well, but when all eleven of us ordered three courses the task became much more difficult. I brought out my trusty iPhone calculator and between it and some great detective work we finally knew how much each of us owed. After our meal we headed to the first of the weekend’s four Shakespeare plays: Romeo and Juliet. For such a clichéd love story, this production took a very cynical take emphasizing the age of the lovers and the physical passion they felt for one another. This created a more sexually charged atmosphere but also took away from the “timeless love” aspect of the play—not that it was a bad thing. The main actors were mediocre but their supporting cast was exquisite! Mercutio was more bawdy than I’d ever seen Shakespeare, but dressed like a rock star he was compelling. Juliet’s nurse seemed less world-weary and far more knowing, helping Juliet rather than doing her bidding. Overall the performance was good!
Trying to avoid the weekend crowds we visited the Shakespeare sites on Friday. Because I’d been to Stratford on my Paris/London trip with my mom, I decided to just visit his birthplace and grave and save a little money.
After wandering in search of the tourist office for upwards of twenty minutes, my friends and I found Shakespeare’s birthplace instead. We found ourselves very frustrated throughout the tour by all of the supposedly concrete evidence about Shakespeare. Having grown up in a time when the writing of Shakespeare was still contested we found it odd that there was no mention of the controversy. The whole experience felt very fake and commercialized, which of course it was, but I was appalled at the lack of reality in that place.
While in the gift shop one of my friend’s was injured when an employee dropped a box on her foot! Luckily the damage wasn’t too severe and we quickly set off for Shakespeare’s grave. The grave of Shakespeare isn’t what I had expected. He’s housed in a huge chapel with stained-glass windows, high ceilings and a pound for admission. I shouldn’t have been surprised after the Disneyfication of his birthplace, but I couldn’t believe that they had created a display to the baptismal font where Shakespeare “may have been baptized”. Such lunacy!
After visiting the requisite sites we wandered around town until our second play of the weekend. Before this trip I had never seen or read Antony and Cleopatra so it was an interesting experience. The play seemed to be set in the modern Middle East, bringing a whole new level of understanding to the text. The actress who played Cleopatra was fantastic! She was very believable as a manipulative seductress while still being a joy to watch.
On Saturday morning we attended a performance of The Tempest that was geared toward children. The songs and costumes were a welcome change from the adult Shakespeare plays that we’d seen the previous nights. There were even puppets involved. A puppet Caliban was a little much to get used to, especially after a recent viewing of Julie Taymor’s movie.
The afternoon was gorgeous so we enjoyed the day sitting down by the river, drinking tea outside and visiting the local butterfly farm! The butterfly farm has species from all over the world contained in a relatively small greenhouse. The butterflies seemed particularly attracted to my hair which made it hard to take pictures with them. Overall it was lovely to wander among the beautiful insects and attempt pictures for an hour or so.
All of the boats picture above were named after female characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
After frolicking outdoors we were ready for our last play of the weekend King Lear. The same cast who performed Antony and Cleopatra performed Lear making for a strange evening of who’s who! Lear is one of my least favorite of the plays so I was unenthused to see it performed. The play was interesting enough when taught by my favorite professor (Perry Lentz) but on stage it was a
bore chore to watch.
Because we had time on the way back to Exeter, the bus took a detour to Tintern Abbey. Did I mention that’s in Wales? It’s easy to forget how close together things are over here. We didn’t go more than a few kilometers out of our way to visit the gorgeous ruins.
We had a beautiful day to wander around and it was nice to take a brain break after such a scholarly few days.