2013 was the summer of England and France. My husband, Brent, and I hit seven cities in three weeks, taking in a mix of city and country. This is part of a series of blog posts recounting our adventures over July of 2013.
My geek meter hit eleven as I crossed London’s Millennium Bridge. The contemporary and classic nerds within combined into one uber geek as Harry Potter and William Shakespeare fought for my attention.
I pictured Dementors attacking the bridge as they had in the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (though not the book, or I would have been geeking over J.K. Rowling in general) and was glad that the sun was shining. London may have been wholly unprepared for the heat wave that had been rocking the city for days, but at least it wasn’t dark and foggy; I may have actually lost my senses if I was walking over the Millennium Bridge while Dementors were breeding. It would have been too authentic – even if authenticity was why I was on the bridge at all.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was like a literary Siren pulling me across the bridge, over to London’s south bank. I was drawn to the replica of Shakespeare’s famous theatre with an abandon that only an English teacher could truly appreciate, and my dear husband was good enough to humour the word hound that he’d married.
I’d bought the tickets to the matinée of A Midsummer Night’s Dream months ago, being in awe of all the titles of nobility that I’d had to scroll through before finding “Mrs.” I had momentarily considered “accidentally” calling myself Duchess MacKenzie – or maybe Marquess MacKenzie – but I thought it would look odd for a woman of noble birth to buy floor tickets.
The yard is where the peasants stood, you see, and if I was going to see Shakespeare performed as authentically as possible, I wanted the whole experience; I wanted to be a groundling. There was a certain romance in the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, catching the actors’ spittle in the face as they tore through their lines. I was looking forward to getting a true understanding of what it would have been like to watch Shakespeare as a contemporary, even if I was pretty sure that heckling the actors and throwing rotten food at them would be frowned upon these days. I wanted the aching feet from standing through a three hour play, and the assaulted senses from so many people standing in close proximity.
But I had to wait. We crossed the Millennium Bridge hours before the play was set to start and intended to spend the morning exploring the south bank. My history geek got its due when we wandered through Clink Street and caught sight of the Tower of London from across the river. The often silent tourist in me – the one who decided that seeing a pub was a much more culturally rich experience that seeing Buckingham Palace – was taken with Tower Bridge. After one last wander around to find some bottled water to stave off dehydration in the 32-degree weather, it was time. We walked into the theatre.
I couldn’t believe the size of it. In all of my studies of Shakespeare – and in all the times I had described the theatre to students – I had never realized just how small the place was. The stage was half the size of what you might find in a decent high school theatre, and the yard where I was to be a groundling couldn’t have been much bigger than 600 square feet. My romantic notions of standing with like-minded theatre patrons were ungracefully shoved out of mind as I myself was shoved; there were a lot of people crammed onto this ground. I couldn’t have stuck out my elbows without knocking into another theatregoer.
There was little time to think about that though. Musicians in period costumes, playing instruments that would have been heard in Shakespeare’s own time were on-stage, both warming us up and signaling that the show was about to start. Then, they were gone, and actors swept onto the stage. There were no sets to distract my eye, no lights to blind me, no…hey wait, were there supposed to be stars everywhere?
“I don’t feel well,” I managed to mutter to the hubs, suddenly caring that what was once a dirt floor was now cement. My vision was blurring and my lips felt tingly; fainting here would have caused an unexpected game of groundling dominoes as I knocked into people on my way to the hard ground.
Seeing that I wasn’t right, the hubs grabbed my arm and directed me to the door, where an usher threw velvet curtains aside and let us into the open-air lobby. Upon seeing us, three elderly ladies, resting their feet from their theatre duties, hopped off their bench and politely ordered me to sit. Already feeling bad for having displaced these ladies, and dealing with the embarrassment of nearly fainting during the first scene, a first-aid attendant showed up with a wheelchair. Oh man.
I felt like I was in a Chaplin-esque slapstick movie as I was quickly wheeled to the “cool room.” My chauffer was happy to hear that I was only feeling faint, not nauseous, as he positioned me on a cot, placing pillows under my feet and directing one of the room’s fans onto my face. With a reassurance that this happens all the time and that we could head back into the theatre whenever I felt ready, he left us.
Apparently the water in the room was good to drink, but we never found out. My eyes were making all the water that I could handle right then. After the months of anticipation, after telling everyone that I was going to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe, after geeking out hardcore all day, I was missing the play.
And I was going to miss all of it. Seeing the hospital style vomit trays – the ones that look way too much like cafeteria French fry containers – convinced me that maybe I had gotten off easy. I hadn’t hit the ground. No other groundlings had been taken down with me. I wasn’t puking. I couldn’t risk actually fainting and ruining these silver linings. But I was ruined. I was inconsolable, trying to accept that I wasn’t going to see my play.
I moped fort the rest of the afternoon, convinced that I had ruined the day. But the day wasn’t a waste. I definitely have a better understanding of what it would have been like to see a play in Shakespeare’s day, and hubby says that he’ll go back with me on our next trip to London – only he’s insisting that we sit like nobility. Marquess MacKenzie agrees.
Photo credit: Brent MacKenzie