Day Six: Stratford, and Merchant of Venice
As I write, we are headed back to Hounslow for our final night’s sleep, having just watched an absolutely incredible Merchant of Venice! The bus was abuzz as we left the Royal Shakespeare Theater, as everyone discussed the details of the play, and what ideas the directors and actors wanted to leave us with.
Before seeing the show, we had a full day in Shakespeare’s birthplace. We started with a Behind the Scenes tour of the RST, seeing up close what it takes to put on their impeccable productions. We saw backstage, the stage manager’s booth, and the doors of the dressing rooms (though unfortunately we couldn’t go in to check those out). All the while, the lighting crew was rehearsing cues for the play we were to see, and as we sat in the seats of the theater learning about it, we got a glimpse of the dark, brooding atmosphere we would encounter in the performance.
After the tour, we met up with my former professor, Miriam, who had us all over for sandwiches and snacks in her garden. It was a joy to hear the students discuss Shakespeare with her… truly what I have been most looking forward to all week! She provided some fascinating insight into the play, and made us even more excited to see how this cast and crew would handle its complexities and troubling elements—chiefly, the treatment of Shylock, and the play’s overt portrayal of racist stereotyping.
After our time with Miriam, we headed to the RSC costume warehouse for a tour. Here, the company keeps all of the costumes used in their many productions, grouped by time period. They rent the costumes out to local schools and community theaters, providing another source of income for the RSC. We could have spent a full day here and not seen all that this treasure trove holds. It sprawls over three floors, and the giant rooms are simply stuffed with costumes, crowns, suits of armor, hats, shoes, veils, masks, and jewelry. We all tried on our favorite pieces, and took many photos (some of which I am sure will turn up in the MME). After an hour, we finished the tour, wishing we had more time.
We then met up with Shabby, who had come down to Stratford with us, and headed to Church of the Holy Trinity, the site of Shakespeare’s baptism, wedding, and burial. It is a simply beautiful church, one in which people have worshipped since 1210! We viewed Shakespeare’s gravesite, as well as those of other members of his family. It was wonderful to escape the bustle of the center of Stratford, and to find a place of quiet contemplation (though I imagine that during high tourist season, the church might not be so quiet.)
After visiting the Bard’s grave, we headed back into town, where we had an hour to explore the various Shakespeare-themed shops and cafes, then had our final dinner together in a pub-like restaurant called The Golden Bee. It was soon time to head to the theater, and we were treated to what might be the finest Shakespearean acting company in the world. I will let the students tell you their thoughts on the production, but I must say, it has been an English teacher’s dream to hear their gleeful voices after both shows, as well as their wishes to remain in England so that they can see more Shakespeare.
We depart our hotel tomorrow at 6:30 to make our 9:30 flight. I can’t believe the week is over! It went too fast, but I feel so lucky to have been able to share my passions with the students over these past few days.