by Brenda W. Clough
Shakespeare is wonderful. But Shakespeare at the Globe Theater in London, an exact replica of the original playhouse on the south shore of the Thames, is unbelievably cool. I am so glad we did this! Some friends organized it, and we happily piled in for the full experience: lunch at the Swan before the show, the afternoon performance (so that we could see it in daylight, as the Elizabethans did), cushions for the backless benches (recommended!) and the actor’s Q&A after.
The entire site is magnificently developed — Shakespeare is at least as major a British industry as Harry Potter. There is a learning center, a restaurant and pub, a spendy and irresistible gift shop (see my tee shirt!), all kinds of state-of-the-art modern stuff. But in the middle of all this, suddenly, is the great wooden O of Henry V, and you step back 400 years. The rafters, floors, benches and stage are wood. The roof is thickly thatched, mossy, and supervised by pigeons, open to the sky. The illumination comes from the sun. You can hear the jets and ambulances in the street outside, and if it rains the groundlings get drenched. There are no lights, amps, revolves, projection screens, turntables, or sound systems. There is scarcely any set and only a few props. It is just you and the stage, and you fall into William Shakespeare’s outspread arms like a lover. Take me, Bill — I’m an English major and I’m yours!
And in the grand tradition of British theater the Globe has a company. The actors were doing two plays when we were there, alternating them: Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra. These are not exactly linked dramas, although some of the characters carry over (and I am sure there is a savation on costumes and swords). In the US Julius Caesar is staged often and studied in high schools a lot. It is snappy, long on action and history, and there is no sex, which makes it palatable for school boards. Antony & Cleopatra you hardly ever see performed and is studied less.
And oh, what a work of passion it is! Sex and power — what more is there to history, to fiction, to life? A big wad of history is crammed into five acts, and masses of action: several battles on land and sea, the passage of a good ten or fifteen years, multiple suicides and the rule of empires. Clever staging makes it all come to life so that you don’t actually have to know about the Battle of Actium. Straitlaced Rome and the fleshpots of Egypt are all hinted at with minimal props. This is a grand play for the older actor, and the stars are superb. I can’t imagine it done better.
The ebook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.