When I visited London a year and half ago for a Shakespeare abroad program, I wrote journal entries describing famous sites we visited.
Some of these places completely surprised me, and all offered new cultural perspectives, whether historically speaking or in modern day. Many entries include fun facts and little interesting tidbits I learned along the way that tour guides don’t necessarily bring up. From Shakespeare to the Tower of London to street performers in Piccadilly Circus, pack your bags for London and discover these national treasure secrets for yourself:
Required Sites I visited:
Optional Sites I visited:
HAMPTON COURT PALACE SERVANT QUARTERS
Hampton Court Palace was one of my favorite stops on the trip. Right when you enter the castle you are transported into the servants’ quarters. I thought it was the area for King Henry VIII to eat in at first because the ceilings were so tall and the rooms were so big. Servants and cooks in the kitchen were far better off than I imagined (even though these ones did work for the King). I got to roast meat on the spit, which was a much larger fireplace than I thought would be constructed. I quickly learned that these kitchens were so big because over 800 meals were made here every single day. The palace hosted courtiers and ambassadors for when Henry’s son Edward was to arrive (also Henry’s heir), so it was important that an abundance of food was prepared to welcome these people of such nobility.
I also noticed this same kitchen trend with the huge fireplace and spit in Shakespeare’s birthplace and his daughter’s house. I imagine that the kitchen was a place to sit and talk similar to many of our memories of our grandmother’s or mother’s kitchen today. There were many benches in the Hampton Court Palace kitchen so people could tell stories while they were chopping ingredients or washing vegetables. After visiting the palace, I couldn’t help but think about how Shakespeare’s kitchen in his home affected his way of growing up. Throughout Hampton Court Palace many people who were dressed in time period garments walked around completing different kitchen tasks, and perhaps each of Shakespeare’s brothers and sisters had unique tasks assigned to them in their own kitchen. Many of Shakespeare’s plays reference food and how eating together provides a sense of stability, oneness, and comfort. Shakespeare’s company, “the King’s Men,” actually performed at one point for James I in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace between Christmas and New Years, so the kitchen and dinner table play a huge role in connecting to Shakespeare’s written work and theatrical performances. Where food is prepared and eaten along with the surrounding space influences our relationships with those around us. How we interact with family, friends, and colleagues can grow and change all because of a simple meal. Ultimately Shakespeare’s work depicts how a meal can transform a friendship or tear bonds apart when the truth comes out at a supper or banquet. A meal holds higher stakes than we often realize.
THE GLOBE THEATRE: AS YOU LIKE IT & THE POWER OF SIGN LANGUAGE
After reading As You Like It in class, I was constantly fixated on the character of Celia even after we finished the play. Why was she included besides being the daughter of Duke Frederick? Was she just a confidant and sister-like cousin to Rosalind? I struggled with going past the surface level of Celia and analyzing her deeper roots, relationships, and inner conflicts. As You Like It was my favorite play production we saw because I finally understood who Celia was as a character due to the deaf actress Nadia Nadarajah.
As an actress Nadia said that she struggled with learning the text in British Sign Language due to Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, which has different syntax and grammar than BSL. Nadarajah often had two interpreters during rehearsals so she could understand the translations and multiple layers being called upon her deafness in real life and her deafness as a character who interacts with her friends Rosalind and Touchstone through signing. Nadarajah and her translators had to go through every single one of her lines to find the sign language equivalent or something close to what Shakespeare was trying to say. Nadarajah says, “As a team, we managed to find our language.”
This “language” is what I finally understood Celia to be. She is the physical and metaphorical language that friends, cousins, and sisters hold dear between them. Even when Rosalind was onstage alone she still used pieces of sign language because her relationship and language with Celia is never lost despite the conflicts at hand.
My favorite part of As You Like It was when Nadarajah used her real voice to communicate to King Frederick her close-knit bond with Rosalind that can never be torn apart. To have her be 99% silent for the duration of the show and then use this moment to yell was a defining choice that pushed this show from excellent to brilliant. When Celia screams in Nadarajah’s voice, it is both haunting, emotional, and vulnerable; we witness the vocal strain corresponding to how Rosalind means more like a sister to Celia than a cousin. Nothing can come between them, not even a different language.
In my opinion, As You Like It must be watched along with reading it. Characters that get lost in translation such as Celia are clearly defined, especially in this circumstance with a deaf actress powerfully sweeping the stage. And not only did other actors have to know Nadarajah’s sign language lines but they also had to communicate in sign language back with her and translate what she was saying to other characters. Those that signed with Nadarajah were those who were true friends of Celia (such as Rosalind and Touchstone), which helped us as audience members understand which relationships were close or more distanced. To put a deaf actress in this role enlightened what Shakespeare was trying to stress in As You Like It all along: Language is universal.
TOWER OF LONDON PRISONER TIME: GESTURES ACROSS COUNTRIES
Before this trip, I was informed that the backwards peace sign to Londoners is like the middle finger for Americans. When I was at the Tower of London doing an archery simulation, an older man came up to me and asked me what I thought the peace sign meant. I explained exactly what Caitlyn had told our class and how it was an obscene gesture or an insult. The man agreed but explained in detail.
In actuality, when British soldiers were against French troops, after pulling their two fingers back from their archery bows they would raise those same two fingers in a ‘V’ sign to signal that their skills in archery were stronger and that they were more powerful in general. During the Hundred Years’ War in the Battle of Agincourt, English and Welsh longbowmen would use this gesture to show their pride and defiance against their enemies. Legend has it that prisoners of war would have these two fingers cut off so they could no longer operate their bow and arrow.
What this random man told me at the Tower of London had an impact on how I view gestures across the world. Although there are no definitive conclusions about the ‘V’ gesture corresponding directly to archery, we do know it can mean many things such as peace, victory, rebellion, and resistance. When traveling to other countries we must be aware that our own country’s gestures may not translate the same way in other areas. What could be celebratory could also be offensive, and we must be careful how we choose to represent ourselves and our country.
COSTUMES COMING FROM HOME: A GLOBE THEATRE CONVERSATION
One of the elements of As You Like It and Hamlet at the Globe that impressed me was the concept of incorporating costumes from home. Because actors during the Elizabethan period would have worn recycled costumes (mixing past costumes from theatre productions with their own pieces from home), bringing this original concept from hundreds of years ago back to life again was brilliant. I really started to think about what a costume means to an actor and whether a costume constrains or frees an actor to fully commit, to absolutely lose themselves in another character.
In reading the program from Hamlet, the costume designer states, “My heart sinks a little when an actor says ‘I don’t care what you put me in.’ What we choose—or don’t choose—to wear and own and carry with us can say so much about who we are, where we’ve come from, and who we want to be—some of the most fundamental questions that theatre asks of us” (Ellan Parry, designer).
When some of us from the trip were waiting in line at the Globe for Hamlet, we saw Richard Katz walk by who played Silvius. Shocking to us all, he was wearing the same baseball hat we had seen him wear in As You Like It. This simple event we witnessed—an actor walking to the theatre in his everyday clothes, wearing the same hat he wore in his show—was unforgettable to say the least.
It was humbling, and it was humanizing. Here was this famous actor who performs famous plays at the Globe just strolling along with a costume piece that suddenly did not feel like a costume anymore. Ellen Parry, the costume designer, says she tried to keep the design process as dialogic as possible. As an actor myself, I would love to see this concept translated more in Marist theatre productions where the designer is in complete conversation with all the actors’ intellectual and psychological processes that are evolving every rehearsal due to new character insights. To me, a character should never be a character but an expression of oneself in another light. You must put yourself onstage first and last.
Costumes can provide this transformation, where we take pieces of ourselves we already know and heighten them in different ways. To wear my own hat on stage would make playing Hamlet seem more like playing Amanda who undergoes revenge, lust, isolation, and madness. The costume concept of including regal and historically accurate outfits mixed with pieces that could come from any modern groundling’s closet made me appreciate the intimacy of both Hamlet and As You Like It. The distance was lessened between actors and audience members, and the theme of what it means to be human (which some Shakespeare productions lose) was instantly revived.
SPONTANEOUS LONDON: PICCADILLY CIRCUS HIPHOP & FREE POETRY
On this trip I witnessed the vast amount of street performers, from dancers, to musicians, to con artists, and even puppeteers. These artists were quite different than ones I have seen in the U.S. because these ones were more selfless. I truly believe they wanted to inspire people walking by rather than making money.
One of my favorite street performers was in Piccadilly Circus, and this guy was a hiphop dancer who breakdanced. In no time at all he gathered a huge crowd with his hilarious, persuasive, and engaging emcee microphone skills. Instead of a solo act, he incorporated two random kids from the audience. A little boy competed in a dance-off to Michael Jackson songs, and the street performer actually gave the boy a ten dollar bill before saying, “You are the kinds of people that help me do what I love. So I’m giving part of my money to you.” The little boy was ecstatic and kept giving his mom a huge grin at all the money he was making. At the end of his performance the man said to the crowd, “My message that I want all of you to take with you is that you can do anything you desire. Do what you love, and love what you do because this is your life! Thank you.” This man’s message has stuck with me since I saw him perform. He taught me to follow my dreams no matter what and spread joy to others around me, even if that is in simple ways such as making others laugh and smile.
Another man I passed was the poetry man near the Globe. This man had on a colorful outfit which translated to his colorful poems that he wrote himself. The two poems I picked were “Love Poem: A Tree of Life” and “Invitation to a Journey.” After trying to be obvious about showing my donation going into his jar many times, I realized that he did not care about the money but rather brightening others’ day, especially those that needed it.
What I loved about his creativity was that his poems were specifically addressed to unique individuals. One was addressed to “a homeless man” or “a golden-hearted lady” or “to a rationalist” or “a little boy who likes bicycles.” He was clearly targeting people who needed a poem, who needed to think about life in a different way or were struggling in some sense.
By calling it “The Magic Poems Carpet” I believe he aimed to shelter anyone who needed comfort or even provide a small bit of hope in their day. In the poem “Invitation to a Journey” that I picked up, my favorite lines say: “There is no movement of advance without loss, wound of sacrifice. The shed skin by the road precious with memory holds me in anguish. Laden with the ache of its abandonment I turn, and hurry on the road which is myself.”
These street performers taught me to give pieces of myself back to others while still doing what I love, which is actually similar to this man of writing my own poetry and performing it. Both of these men had clearly gone through sacrifices and hardships, but they decided to move forward (just like the poem says). They decided to find themselves in a bigger journey that inspires hundreds of strangers every day in the middle of this crazy and amazing place we call London.
Amanda spent two weeks in London.