It was a glorious Shakespeare filled day and I loved every minute of it! After our usual breakfast at the hotel, our group took the Tube to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for our 10 a.m. tour. The Globe is a tribute to Shakespeare and includes an exhibition area, learning center and playhouse – which is a recreation of the original Globe Theatre that was lost in a fire centuries ago.
The playhouse is absolutely incredible, but my pictures simply don’t do it justice. It is a 20 paneled circular structure with seating on three levels. The stage is beautifully adorned with painted columns and angelic sculptures. There is a large space in front of the theatre for standing room only. In Shakespeare’s day the “groundlings” watched the play from the ground for 1 pence while standing on a floor of hazelnut shells. We toured the entire playhouse and even ventured to the top level to sit in the Queen’s box!
After we finished drooling over the theatre we watched a costume demonstration in the exhibition area. We learned that all the actors at the Globe Theatre wear authentic Shakespearean style costumes from head to toe. Even their undergarments are like those worn in the original Globe Theatre. I was lucky enough to be chosen to model Ophelia’s costume (step-by-step photos of the costume demonstration soon to come!) – making the Globe the highlight of my trip. Putting on the costume was quite a process – it took two employees to get me fully dressed. First, were the undergarments which is a long sleeved white linen dress and a pair of silk stockings that go over the knee that are fastened with two eyelets – red silk ribbons.
Next, the corset. I put my arms through the sleeves and the ladies laced me up in the back using straight-lacing. Even though they didn’t lace me up tight, the garment was incredibly stiff so I was forced to stand up straight. Next they put a farthingale or “bum-roll” around my waist to make me look like I had a larger bottom. Imagine women trying to make their hips and butts look bigger! In Shakespeare’s day, men found women with large hips attractive because that indicated that they could bear children. On the bottom they attached a petticoat by pulling eyelets on the corset through holes in the petticoat. At this point they told me I was standing in my underwear! I put on a pair of lovely shoes made of lamb skin and they were quite comfortable even though they were very big on me. Next they put a skirt over the petticoat which was also fastened with eyelets. Finally, they put me in sleeves (which go on like a jacket), a lace collar and a bonnet. The costume wasn’t too uncomfortable, but I did feel the weight of all the layers on my lower back. I imagine that if I wore the dress for a long period of time I would have a sore back. When I sat down, the dress forced me to sit up perfectly straight with my hands folded in my lap! No wonder ladies in Shakespeare’s time had such good posture. I felt incredibly elegant, and a part of me wishes that people still dressed like that. I would like to imagine that I was a 15th century noblewoman in a past life and got to dress up in lovely gowns all the time.
Afterwards we got a chance to walk through the exhibits and I spent most of my time in the costume section. The colors, textures and patterns of the clothes were exquisite and the golds and reds were just to die for. Liz and I got a hot lunch outside beside the river overlooking the Millennium Bridge. I feel like I belong here in London because everything is so beautiful and full of history. I would gladly trade in New Jersey sunburns for London’s overcast weather. I hope to come back to London very soon!
In the afternoon our group went to the Apollo Theatre to see Richard III just as Shakespeare intended it to be seen. The all male cast performed the play “by the book” with hand-made costumes, live music, and a candlelit stage – dripping wax and all! The audience surrounded the stage on three sides and there was even seating onstage! It was so interesting to see actors wearing costumes just like the one I wore earlier in the day. At first it was slightly distracting that men were playing women, but I quickly saw past their gender and learned to appreciate their feminine characterizations.
My favorite actor was Mark Rylance who played the title character and managed to add likability and humor to an often hated character. He was always playing right to the audience and made Shakespearean English understandable to the modern audience. His version of the character had a hunchback, deformed arm, and limp. Despite the challenges of these physical impairments, Rylance radiated energy and vivacity with his every movement. When Richard III becomes King Rylance he wore a beautiful golden cape. During our Globe Theatre tour we learned that the cape is made of real gold and is quite heavy. Armed with this knowledge, I couldn’t stop gazing at the cape the entire time it was onstage! My only complaint of the performance was the director’s choice to cast men in female roles. Obviously, the director was aiming to put on the most authentic performance of Richard III as possible in 2013, but I would like to have seen actresses perform the female roles.
In the evening Liz and I got dinner with our professors at a pub and then turned in for an early night since we are still recovering from jet lag. So long!