Treading in the path in England where William Shakespeare and his followers trod, and continue to do so, was an adventure.
Shakespeare, often called England’s National poet, was born during the Elizabethan era in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, a medieval market town in England’s West Midlands. He married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway in 1582 when he was 18. His Tudor family home was near her famous 500-year-old family cottage. The guides in these well-preserved houses, dressed in traditional attire of medieval times, enthusiastically related their history as we wandered through. The floors creaked with every step.
One cold, overcast day I crossed over the historic London Bridge to visit the *Shakspeare Globe Theater, an American-built complex which opened in 1997. I hoped to catch one of The Bard’s plays in the oak-and-thatch replica of the original Elizabethan theatre which stood close to this location during medieval times. Tourists and theatre-goers of all ages swarmed the complex and strolled along its famed waterfront, undeterred by the inclement weather.
Shakespere’s open-air Globe theatre was closed for the winter season. But I was able to secure a last minute, standing-room ticket for a play in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. This year-round playhouse is notable for the reconstruction of the old Globe Theatre
The semi-circular wooden balcony where I stood was so steep that I had to lean forward and peer through the low-hung candlelit chandeliers in order to see the stage. Fortunately they were raised during the performance, giving me a clear view of the performers, albeit from high above. Before the play began, the intimacy of the location of my viewing facilitated interesting interaction with strangers who were standing close to me. Many were regular Globe attendees and were quite knowledgeable about Shakespeare and this theatre.
On a wall near Shakespeare’s Globe, as if to welcome people into the nearby historic Borough Market, stood his over-sized mosaic portrait. A market was said to have been in this location long before his time. Colorful fresh fruit stands and cheese stalls were scattered among a smorgasbord of international fresh food stalls. Whiffs of exotic food smells permeated the damp, cool air under the massive steel beams of the London Bridge.
The London Bridge, which has been rebuilt numerous times, dates from the Roman period. It was probably a pontoon style crossing linking Roman roads across the River Thames.
I frequented this enticing market regularly, appreciating the fact that it supports the interaction of the varied cultures that exist throughout London. It was always humming with foodies, especially on weekends, when long queues were the norm. During my visits I enjoyed Thai coconut pancakes; koshari, Cairo street food; and fresh Italian pasta. I often ate at an outside communal table and struck up a conversation with the international people who were seated there next to me.
After several unsuccessful attempts to see a Shakespeare play in various venues, I managed to secure a front row seat, for the price of 10 British Pounds, for the play “Much Ado About Nothing” in one of London’s premier theatres. A few tickets were made available at the box office each day of performance starting at 10am. I was one of the first in line that day.
A couple of weeks later while I was visiting Leipzig, a charming, cosmopolitan city in former East Germany, Shakespeare’s trail reappeared in the form of music for “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”
Leipzig, with 1000 years of history, was once one of the major European centers of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing. The composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) helped develop Leipzig as a center of music in 19th century Europe.
At Mendelssohn’s house museum I listened rapturously to his overture for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which premiered in 1827. An acoustical room was set up like an orchestra pit with separate tall speakers each representing an instrument. Listeners, with headphones on, stood in the front, as if they were the conductor. A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture was household music in Germany until WWII. Due to anti-semitism, all performances of Mendelssohn’s music stopped until the end of the war.
What a treasure trove it is to connect with Shakespeare, in some form, while traveling through Europe.
*Shakespeare’s Globe: http://www.Shakespearesglobe.com
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