Play #2: Hamlet

Stratford-upon-Avon was tiny, neat, packed with ancient houses, and incredibly safe (even for an already safe country). One of my classmates and I were actively seeking out dark alleys (it’s a long story, I’ll get to it) and even though it was technically nighttime, I’m not sure I saw a (metaphorically) shady spot in the entire town.

When we got to Stratford on Wednesday,our program coordinator Peter took us on a walk down to Anne Hathaway’s cottage. He explained what the walk would have been like back in the day when Shakespeare went a-courting, and over that tour and the one on Thursday I ended up picking up quite a bit about architecture and life from the 1500’s down to the present.

That night, we went to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. I loved it. Even though I’d read the play quite a few times, the production was a stream of little (and sometimes not so little) surprises. Jonathan Slinger was fantastic–changeable and childlike and snarky and all sorts of other things by turns.  I also really appreciated that the production sidestepped some of the issues that critics have gotten preoccupied with in the past: they didn’t give Hamlet any weird Oedipal issues, and Hamlet didn’t seem terribly hesitant. That may have been, in part, because of the breakneck pace. I took a notepad and pen before it started, and by the time I caught my breath somewhere in the second scene, I put it away.

After the production, my classmate Christopher and I decided to seek out the actors’ rumored watering hole. It’s a public house with a sign hanging over the door, printed on one side as The Black Swan and the other as The Dirty Duck.  Some of the other students had given us directions, saying something about “right” and “through a dark alley” and “up some stairs.”  We got lost for a while, and discovered only back seating for restaurants and a gallery. Finally, we realized we hadn’t gone far enough on our first trip and, following a much simpler route, found it right away, right next to the theatre. My friend Derek was already there, and pointed out where just about all the actors were sitting.

At various points before and during the journey to the Dirty Duck, I had been waffling about whether I was really up to meeting the actors. The prospect of bugging them was daunting, and once we got there, it was the most I could do to hover around with Christopher trying to get a peek. Finally, Derek took pity on us and led the way. I got my program signed by a few of them and told them they were wonderful and then got the heck out of there.

The next day, we toured Shakespeare’s birthplace, the big house he bought when he made it big (New Place), and a couple of other associated sites. It was the birth-to-death tour, so after lunch we went into Trinity Church and saw the famous grave, complete with a warning against potential grave robbers. We had a few hours to wander around and then we caught the train back to London.

This morning, still tired and achy from all of the traveling, we went on a short walk around Shoreditch, London’s original theatre district.  It rained (for the first time since I was lugging my luggage from Heathrow) and after class I went back to my homestay and had a fairly lazy day. We basically have a free weekend until 3 Henry VI (The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York) this Sunday evening, so we’ll see what happens until then.

Update: to read my rundown of The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York, click here.)