Final Day: A Bloody Good Play

The roses are blooming at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and it is time for us to bid London farewell.

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We spent the day at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, just across the River Thames from St. Paul’s (and our hostel) via the Millennium Bridge. There we went through the Exhibition and had a tour of the theatre. We got to see the theatre in a state of transition: between performances of Titus Andronicus last night and this afternoon, the company was rehearsing Antony and Cleopatra — so the stage was half-swathed in the black that dominates the Titus set, with the red walls of Antony and Cleopatra temporarily unveiled.

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For Titus, the triangular portion of the stage on the front wasn’t in place; instead, there were ramps running parallel to the stage in front. Usually the black cloths are not strung across the roof of the Globe. Those are in place specifically for Titus.

After a pleasant wait in (the very front of the) line, we made our way into the theatre. The Globe still adheres to early modern practices by having the yard as a standing-only section. Those standing in the yard are known as “groundlings” (a term that comes to us from Hamlet, incidentally). As the first ones in, we claimed spots front and center, leaning on the stage!

The performance was remarkable. Everyone warned us about how gory and violent it was. We thought, “We’ve read the play. We know how bad it is!” Many of us have also seen Julie Taymor’s 1999 film Titus, so we’ve even experienced a performance (albeit a film one). But there’s nothing like live theatre for gut-wrenching, visceral impact. At various points, many of us had to avert our eyes because the production was so shocking and violent.

And that’s much of the point of the play. Titus Andronicus, as Natasha pointed out in her presentation today, is a revenge tragedy, and its wild excesses of violence remind us how brutal and perpetually destructive the drive for revenge is. This is not a play that glorifies violence, though it features unutterable acts and ends with cannibalism. The point, always, is that Rome itself is dismembered, the body politic just as maimed as the bodies of the Andronici.

For most of the students (perhaps for all of them), today’s performance was one of the highlights of the trip, and I’m so delighted that they got to experience what a Globe performance is like. As groundlings, we were pushed and moved around to make way for the performers at various points; we were close enough that we got spattered with stage blood and the actors’ spit as they delivered their lines. A play at the Globe is interactive, dynamic, and exciting in a way that’s like no other theatrical event. We were so lucky to be able to see such a great performance!

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Tomorrow we travel back. I’m so sorry to say goodbye to this amazing group! Keep your fingers crossed for good luck, good weather, and pleasant Tube journeys, flights, and drives home!

 

 

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