“We’ll hear a play.”-Hamlet Act II Scene ii
This past Wednesday we once again visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. This open-sky replica of Shakespeare’s 16th century theater has been restored to its glory since the original theater burned down and the reconstructed theater after the fire was torn dismantled by the Puritans. Yet today the replica stands because of the leadership and patience of actor Sam Wanamaker, who started this project in the 1970’s.The first supposed reason it is called the Globe is because of its circular design. The second reason is metaphorical. Shakespeare’s writes in As You Like It, “All the world is a stage.” Thus the theater presents plays of different people from the royals to the common man, different parts of the world, with a range of problems and eras. Regardless of the meaning today it draws tourists and locals together for plays. And not all plays performed here are those of the Bard of Avon (Shakespeare).
Bloody. Violent. Ruthless.
Our purpose of our visit was to watch Shakespeare’s first play and tragedy Titus Andronicus. We entered the theater with the scent of burning incense and the stage draped in black to aid the somber mood. Set in ancient Rome this play displays a brutal family feud with an extremely gory ending. Tongues are ripped out, hands are sliced and diced, and heads are chopped off. People have actually been fainting during this season’s various productions of Titus because they cannot take the blood and guts. A few people fainted when we were there. Overall the play exhibits just how dangerous and deadly a thirst for revenge can grow into. We were “groundlings” for the day. “Groundlings” were people who went to his plays for only the cost of a penny. They did not sit but rather stood around the stage. They were mostly uneducated and poor people who would come to the plays just for the violence, special effects, or supernatural elements (ghosts, fairies). Scholars have suggested that Shakespeare looked down upon them and called them “groundfish”, fish that live on the bottom of the sea aka bottom feeders. Obviously today that title no longer applies to present “groundlings”. Regardless of our viewing arrangements, everything about the play was excellent.
It had everything a great story (what mostly every Shakespeare play has) violence, love, and everything in between. All his plays contain three levels of stories: the romantic, the political, and the societal. These three levels along with universal themes intertwine to make some of the finest works in the Western Hemisphere and most undoubtedly the greatest in the English language. They have fundamental and basic lessons which we can all apply in our lives. They show the extremities of human emotion and teach us how to cope with them. He wrote about the human experience for everybody. The lines of his plays go from great flowery language and philosophical debate for the wealthy and educated to then switch over to basic language for the average man. This year England is celebrating the 450th birthday of the Bard and after all these years he continues to remain the most celebrated and widely read writer of all time.
When we were walking over the bridge to the theater my mind flashed back to my senior year of high school. Seeing the theater and the play made my British Literature class come alive. My British Literature teacher was extremely, extremely, extremely passionate about Shakespeare. Over the course of the year we read 3 of his plays (Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest). She made us memorize certain lines, even soliloquies, which I today am extremely grateful for. And she instilled in us knowledge about his life, works, and theater that I have never forgotten. I continued to read several of his works (Romeo & Juliet) and I have purchased several other plays which I need to read.
I have always enjoyed Shakespeare since learning about him my senior year. His plays, poems, and writings are some of the greatest literary treasures of the Western world and the world as a whole. His works escape time and location and applicable to everyone. Unfortunately many people today do not share that same view, such as an Arizona school (click here to view article). Just recently the U.K. banned the American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice & Men from the literature courses (click here for article). Even these American classics are facing threats of exile in its own country (click here for article). And just a few weeks ago Richard Dawkins questioned whether we should be reading fairy tales to children (click here for article). Today great classics, both American and British, are substituted with watered down modern books with no substance or moral/life lessons. Some educators and people today are extremely ignorant by lessening the importance of these fundamentals of Western culture or worse throwing them away as a whole. Such topics include the Latin language, philosophy, Classical Studies, and great literary works. Where is the music? Where is the art? Where is rhetoric ? It’s these subjects which teach people to think critically and become creative. I know not all are cut out for these subjects, just as I am not cut out for science and math. But at the least expose students to these fundamental lessons which built the West.
At least for the present his works are being played traditionally and modernly on stage. I was surprised to see at an exhibition of how some of Shakespeare’s plays are shown today in Japan and South America with a modern twist. Go read or view a Shakespeare play or some classic books (The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Animal Farm, Huckleberry Fin, Tom Sawyer, etc.). These books cost no more than $5 on Amazon if you browse under the used sections. They even have copies which have Shakespeare’s language on the right and a more modern translation on the left. Go ahead pick up a Shakespeare play. Struggle as you may to begin it or get through it, I promise you there will be at least a few lines that strike you. It’s in those lines which allow you to think and ponder-a sad art which is lost today.
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.