London Blog: Origins of Some Commonly Used Phrases

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

During our visit to Anne Hatheway’s Cottage (the home of Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress who just won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Fantine in Les Mis) our guide told us the origins of some commonly used phrases while showing us around the kitchen. Now these phrases actually make sense!

  • a pinch of salt – instead of a salt shaker, a tiny bowl of salt would sit on the table and in order to put salt on your food you would need to pinch it between your fingers.
  • a cut above the rest – bread used to be cut horizontally and the hard bottom portion of the bread would be given to the children because they held the lowest position in the house. The man of the house would be given the best slice at the top of the loaf, or the upper crust, because he was the most important member of the family. Getting a “cut above the rest” meant you got the better slice of bread due to your higher position in the family.
  • pin money – extra spending money that women would make from doing “womanly” things.
  • chairman of the board – dining tables would have benches along either side of the table because chairs were expensive. The man of the house would get the lone chair at the head of the table making him the “chairman.”

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London Blog: Day 14

I woke up early to make the most of our last full day in the U.K. Our group had breakfast at the hotel and after everyone finished eating, we took the 20 minute walk to Anne Hathaway’s cottage (the home of Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress).  We passed tiny homes on quiet streets and saw people walking their dogs through a park enjoying the fresh air.

Meet Joey!

Meet Joey!

Along the way we passed a horse and a pony in a fenced off yard, both wearing adorable little coats to keep them warm. I decided to name the horse Joey and the pony baby Topthorn (after the horses in War Horse). I was so excited to see the animals up close and desperately wanted to pet them. I went up to the fence and stuck out my hand (which in retrospect probably seems a little careless), but Joey came right up to me and let me pet him! I was so happy that I could have stayed there forever, but half of our group had already gone on without us. Reluctantly, I said goodbye to Joey and Topthorn and we continued on our way.

On the way to Anne Hathaway's cottage

On the way to Anne Hathaway’s cottage!

We passed a pasture filled with sheep and crossed a peaceful little creek before we finally made it to the cottage grounds. The Hathaway gardens were beautiful! Before we even went into the cottage, we spent some time exploring the gardens, just basking in the sunlight. Outside we met a black and white cat who absolutely loved Nicole and didn’t want her to stop petting him. I felt very connected with nature here and didn’t want to go inside, but we had walked all this way to see the cottage. Finally, we decided that it was time to pay the cottage a visit and it was just darling!

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

We learned that 13 generations of Hathaways lived in the cottage and that many of the furniture from Shakespeare’s day remains in the home. Even the stone floors in the dining room are the very floors that Shakespeare himself walked on when he came over to the cottage to court Anne. The floors were uneven and creaky and when we were standing on the second floor we could see through the floorboards to the room below, but that just added to the cottage’s charm.

Shakepeare walked here!

Shakespeare walked here!

One of the guides spent a great deal of time with us and told us about the origins of some commonly used phrases. After our tour of the cottage, we went into the gift shop where we lost even more of our group and by the the time we decided to walk back, it was just Allie, Kallie, and I enjoying the leisurely stroll. Along the way, we happened upon a cat who, according to her collar, was named Bubbles. Bubbles followed us a majority of the way back to town before we stopped at Joey’s stable to pay him another visit.

Joey and Bubbles

Joey and Bubbles

After petting Joey and Bubbles a bit more, we bid them farewell and we walked to Trinity Church to visit Shakespeare’s grave.

We learned that a church had been standing on the same site since the 700s, but the current church was rebuilt in 1200. I have trouble wrapping my brain around the dates and grasping just how old things are in this country. The church was beautiful. We paid our 50 pence to walk to the very front of the church and visit Shakespeare’s grave.

Shakespeare's grave surrounded by blue and his bust on the wall.

Shakespeare’s grave is outlined on the floor and his bust hangs above on the wall to the right of the door.

He is buried beside his wife Anne Hathaway, and his daughter and son-in-law are on his other side. On the wall is a bust of Shakespeare that apparently shows his best likeness since it was made while his wife was still alive. After we paid our respects we made our way to the back of the church where there was a gift shop. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing gift shops at historical sites, but I wasn’t expecting to see one inside a church. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

After we left the church, Allie, Kallie, and I got a warm lunch at a nearby cafe. I drank my soup and hot chocolate as we made our way back to the hotel where we met with the rest of our group for our very last class. We went around the room and shared our ideas for our final projects (mine is this blog). It’s amazing how 15 students who spent 15 days together can each come up with a completely different final project. Students are doing everything from papers to paintings, poetry to Prezis. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized how smart and talented my classmates are and I felt humbled to be a part of the group.

After class everyone walked to a nearby restaurant to share our last dinner in Stratford. At the end of our three course dinner, we presented our professors with thank you cards, and then we went back to our rooms to pack before we drifted off to sleep.

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London Blog: Day 13

Crackling fire in the hotel

Crackling fire in the hotel

Brace yourself, this is quite a long post!

I went downstairs to have breakfast with our group and I was one of the first people up again. After everyone finished breakfast, our group went to a workshop at the Royal Shakespeare Company, something I had been looking forward to for the entire trip. I loved every minute of the workshop and wish it could have lasted even longer. The warm-up exercises were incredibly fun and I can’t wait to teach them to the kids at the theatre camp I work at in the summer.

For the first exercise we read a Shakespeare speech aloud while walking around. Each time there was punctuation at the end of a sentence, we would turn around 180 degrees and continue walking. When there was punctuation in the middle of the sentence (such as a comma or semicolon) we would turn 90 degrees and continue walking. I felt a bit dizzy and trapped by the end, which was how the character would be feeling by the end of his speech.

The next few warm-ups involved following directions. We walked around the room at a quick pace and whenever the RSC member called out an action we had to do it all at the same time and then continue walking. Some of the commands were stop, go, clap, jump, reach up, and touch the ground. It got really tricky when he changed the meanings of the commands. We had to remember that stop meant go, clap meant jump, reach up meant touch the ground and vice versa. These warm-ups required a lot of concentration and I would love to use them in the next play I do.

The next warm-up felt like it would be impossible. We were told that we needed to walk around silently and then without communicating with one another or trying to lead the group, we all needed to stop walking at the exact same moment, kneel on the ground, and then get up and continue walking as if nothing had happened. Somehow we were able to complete the task at hand and it felt amazing to work together as a group.

The next set of warm-ups felt more like games.  First we played Triangles. Each person silently chose two people in the group and once we started walking around again we had to stay an equal distance away from the two people we chose, forming a triangle. The next game was Bombs and Shields where we again picked two people without telling them. One person was a bomb and one person was a shield. The object of this game was to keep the shield between you and your “bomb”. This game had a very different energy than Triangles and we moved around erratically. It was so much fun and the entire time I kept thinking how much the kids at the theatre camp would enjoy it. I would probably have to change the name to something less violent – perhaps “Shields and Fireworks”.

Our last warm-up was a combination of the previous three. We were told to walk around and “feel” what game was going on. We played a game of Bombs and Shields, Triangles, and then slowed down to stop all together and kneel. I’m not quite sure how we knew which game was happening when, but we did. I would love to try this with my little campers this summer and see how it works with them!

After the warm-ups we were given the scene from The Merry Wives of Windsor between Anne and Slender where Anne is trying to get Slender to come inside for dinner. We partnered up and practiced the scene once on our own. Then we were told that we could take one step toward or away from our partner on each of our lines, but we had to stay still during our partner’s lines. We then tried the scene two more times. Each time only one character was free to move. Next we were given three different scenarios as background for the scene. The first scenario was that Anne and Slender despised each other, the second was Anne was desperate to get Slender to walk inside to avoid a beating from her father while Slender was determined to not go inside because he was playing it “cool”, and the third scenario was that Slender and Anne were madly in love with each other. It was so interesting to see the shift in power each time we did the scene using a different scenario. My favorite was the first scenario because I got to play Anne a bit angry and sarcastic. After we finished with the scenario we did the scene two more times with the characters following one another while walking around the room. I loved how different the scene felt each time we performed it.

We were then split up into groups of four or five and given a scene with several characters in it. We ran out of time and didn’t get to do much with theses scenes. I really wish we could have spent more time in the workshop. I know I’ll definitely be using these exercises again and I think some of the members of our group are now interested in joining the theatre clubs at school! (One of us! One of us!)

Shakespeare's home

Shakespeare’s home

After the workshop, a group of us went to a nearby cafe for some warm soup and then everyone walked to Shakespeare’s childhood home for a tour. It’s incredible to think that I was standing in Shakespeare’s house, let alone standing in the room where he was born. The amazing thing about British museums and historical sites is that they are so trusting. For example, there were chairs that Shakespeare himself sat on and the only thing to protect them from destructive tourists would be a small ribbon tied across the arms and a small sign that said “Please do not touch.” In the States, you can be certain that any priceless artifact would be behind thick layers of protective glass, but I suppose there isn’t enough glass in the U.K. to cover all its treasures. One of the upstairs rooms was converted into an exhibition room and inside I learned that famous people have been visiting Shakespeare’s house for hundreds of years, most notably some U.S. presidents. In 1786, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson visited the Birthplace together and signed the guest book. At the end of my visit, I also signed the guestbook, but I cannot imagine that anyone will have that on a plaque in 200 years.

Afterwards, everyone took some time to shop in the town and I spent even more money on souvenirs and gifts for my family. Since I’ve been running dangerously low on cash, I decided that this needs to be my last shopping excursion of the trip (or I won’t be able to afford my meals!)

Chickpea Pasty

Chickpea Pasty

Speaking of meals, that cup of soup just wasn’t cutting it so while I was shopping I stopped into a Pasty Shop and tried a vegetarian pasty with chickpeas. A pasty is basically a portable pie and it was delicious. Next I went into Accessorize which had wall to wall jewelry, scarves and generally adorable things. I ended up buying an “I Love London” passport case. (I know I said I wasn’t going to buy any more souvenirs, but it was pretty and on sale!) On the way back to the hotel, Liz and I wandered into what can only be described as a witchcraft shop. As soon as we walked in the door we were surrounded by the strong scent of incense and there were strange odds and ends lining the walls. On the table was a basket filled with turned over tarot cards and a sign that said “Free to read, 20p to own”. I sifted through the cards before finally choosing one to turn over and read. To my surprise, I got the travel card! (Coincidence or magic? – you decide.)

Tea is a feast here!

Tea is a feast here!

Once back at the hotel I had a bit of time to blog before our group tea at the hotel. I quickly learned that “tea” was actually a full meal. The waiters arrived with three tiered trays filled with scones, jams, cucumber sandwiches, and desserts for us to share. The scones were incredible and the cucumber sandwiches were very tasty. It was a lovely meal and it made me sad that our journey was almost over.

In the evening our group (minus the professors) went to the Garrick Inn across the street from the hotel for drinks. This pub had been standing since Shakespeare’s time and it was incredibly likely that Shakespeare himself drank here. I had mulled wine which is a hot drink and a “Shakesbeer”, the house specialty.

Garrick Inn, Stratford's oldest pub

The Garrick Inn, Stratford’s oldest pub

Both drinks were very good, but I did prefer the mulled wine. I enjoyed getting the chance to spend some time with our group, just talking and enjoying ourselves. I fell asleep right away that night and felt very happy to be in such a lovely place. Even though I am starting to miss my family, I don’t want to leave Stratford.

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London Blog: “In London you live; in the country you breathe…”

Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon

London

London

“In London you live; in the country you breathe…”

– Eliza Lynn Linton, writer, 1893

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London Blog: Day 11

London Lodge Hotel, courtesy of LondonLodgeHotel.com

London Lodge Hotel, courtesy of londonlodgehotel.com

Today was our final morning in London. We had our last breakfast at the London Lodge Hotel and brought our suitcases downstairs using the tiny, creaky elevator. Once we loaded up the bus we said our goodbyes to our guide Tiana who was wearing her signature red beret. Even though I was looking forward to having some time to relax at Stratford-upon-Avon, I was so sad to say goodbye to London. I had to keep telling myself that it isn’t really goodbye, it’s more like “until we meet again.” I know I’ll be back to London someday; I truly love the city and feel like I belong there.

Mercure Shakespeare Hotel, courtesy of mercure.com

Mercure Shakespeare Hotel, courtesy of mercure.com

After the three hour bus ride we were in the countryside at last! Stratford-upon-Avon is the small town where Shakespeare grew up and spent most of his life. It is quaint and beautiful, just as the English countryside should be. The bus driver dropped us off at our hotel, the Mercure Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Hotel and we went inside to drop off our bags. Each room has a different name on the door, having to do with a different Shakespearean play. Liz and I stayed in the Belmont room and on the walls were paintings of Queen Elizabeth and a scene from Shakespeare’s Othello. This hotel was much roomier than the first and even had three wood-burning fireplaces downstairs. In the evening I enjoyed curling up in one of the big chairs by the fire and blogging, but first we explored the town.

How's a girl to chose?

How’s a girl to chose?

Liz and I found a bookshop that sold old books a couple doors down from our hotel. We spent such a long time looking at the lovely old books, and I desperately wanted to buy a book but I simply couldn’t pick just one! After I finally tore myself away from the precious books, we ventured down a side street and found the most wonderful vintage shop that was tucked away in a small corner. The shop was about the size of a walk-in closet and was filled with vintage jewelry, purses, and hats. Sparkling jewelry was absolutely everywhere – hanging from the walls and laying on tables. I have no idea what color the walls were because they were covered in several layers of necklaces. Even the jewelry on the table tops was piled on top of each other. Liz and I started talking to Angie, the shop owner, and she told us a bit about her family and where she finds the jewelry.

Angie in her shop

Angie in her shop

While we were talking I saw a lovely cameo choker necklace with two strands of pearls on either side. I told Angie that I thought it was beautiful and she said many people have liked it and wanted to buy it, but it had been too small to fit around their neck. She unhooked it and said I could try it on. Somehow it was a perfect fit! I was so happy I almost started to cry. Angie told me that she made the necklace herself and that it has a real cameo in the center. Best of all, it only cost £7! I told Angie that I needed to run to the ATM to get a smaller bill, but I would be right back to buy it. I was so worried that the little shop would disappear, but luckily it was still there when I came back. She wrapped up the necklace in some paper and made change out of her purse. Before we left, Liz and I said we would visit her again and bring our friends with us. We hurried back to the hotel and made it back just in time for class.

It tasted even better than it looks!

It tasted even better than it looks!

Afterwards, a group of us found a nearby restaurant and tried to get a quick dinner before our show at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Our food took much longer than we expected, but it was well worth the wait. Kallie and I split a mushroom and onion pizza that was quite possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had (sorry NYC). After our meal, we dashed down the street to the theatre and watched a modern version of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Merry Wives of Windsor set, Act I

The Merry Wives of Windsor set, Act I

I’m so happy that the Royal Shakespeare Company performed our last show of the trip – this was the perfect way to end our theatre tour. I thought the staging was genius. Since the stage was surrounded by the audience on three sides, the actors were really able to fill up the space and use the stage as if they were real people living their day-to-day lives. The sets were realistic and everything appeared from the floor of the stage.

The Merry Wives of Windsor set, Act V

The Merry Wives of Windsor set, Act V

Although Richard III attempted to give the proscenium stage theatre a thrust stage feel by seating audience members along the sides of the stage, the staging still felt more like a traditional proscenium stage because a majority of the audience was still in front of the actors. The Merry Wives of Windsor was a proper thrust stage show because the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was built specifically for Shakespearean plays. Exactly 1/3 of the audience was on each side of the stage and the back of the stage was reserved for large set pieces. The acting was superb and the modern take on Merry Wives made the show easier to relate to. Even though this performance was modern, I think the production gave the audience the feel of an authentic Shakespearean play (even more authentic than Richard III) because of the staging. Afterwards our professors jokingly referred to the play as “The Housewives of Windsor” and that phrase pretty much sums up the play. After the show was over we explored the gift shop (of course) and then we went back to our rooms to unpack. Even though I miss London, I think Stratford may also have found a place in my heart.

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London Blog: “All the world’s a stage…”

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…”

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It

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London Blog: Shakespearean Costume Demonstration

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Click through the slideshow to see the arduous process of getting dressed in the 1500’s.

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London Blog: Day 4

The Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre

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 Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre

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!

In the Queen's box!

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.

Costume rack

Costume rack

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.

Notice how it's a male mannequin wearing the dress.

Notice how it’s a male mannequin wearing the dress.

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!

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