Today marks the 399th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Bard holds a special place in anglophiles’ hearts, so don’t miss out on a very special travel opportunity we’re offering next year, in honor of the 400th anniversary: In the Footsteps of Shakespeare, an Albion tour. Join fellow anglophiles in visiting special places with strong ties to Shakespeare’s life Book Now
Every anglophile, every bibliophile, and really, everyone who appreciates a story well-told, has a moment when he or she first “gets” Shakespeare. The language unlocks, the iambic pentameter flows and what was once dense and impenetrable becomes familiar and playful.
The particularly adept of us have this moment in high school English class. That never happened for me. Despite learning from one of the best Shakespeare teachers in the country, one who’s successfully transformed his classroom into a stage and won numerous awards, I never caught the bug. While I watched my peers dive headfirst into The Bard, I merely toed the waters, eagerly awaiting something I could really sink my teeth into. Something more modern and less foreign, like a Hemingway or an O’Connor or even an Achebe.
Fortunately, as a college student I spent a semester in London and enrolled in a Shakespeare course there, one with lots of “field work.” In other words: I received college credit for attending plays. Jackpot.
Within the first few weeks, I had already visited Stratford-upon-Avon, seen Shakespeare’s grave, watched a performance of Julius Caesar, and read about three plays. Shakespeare was more engaging than he had ever been. But, engaging as he was, he had stiff competition from, well, the entire city of London. Most nights, I’d gladly put down a 400-year old play, even one I was enjoying, in favor of the magic of the city yet unexplored.
One particularly dreary fall evening changed that, though. Through pouring rain, I stood as a “yardling” in The Globe, just feet from the stage, for a performance of Henry IV, Part I. The rain forged a wholly unique bond between cast and audience, all of us working together to invoke Shakespeare’s spirit and transcend the weather.
Transcend we did, as the cast brilliantly captured the struggle of a young prince who pursues the purity of friendship and life with the iconic Falstaff before ultimately succumbing to duty and “honor.” Falstaff so memorably laments this honor, and I’ll never forget the bittersweet soliloquy Roger Allam delivered as Falstaff that day (see video below, from a considerably drier performance by the same cast).
The performance offered moments where reality and fantasy merged, such as when Harry Hotspur relished the downpour, openly laughing at the rain drenching him, before delivering his line with vigor. Or when Allam as Falstaff ruefully gazed at the bleak sky as his best friend is plucked from his world and perched on the throne as just another King. The experience made Shakespeare as immediate as the modern London that I’d been so willingly distracted by; the performance revealed a beautiful world wracked by the same tensions we face today.
The sort of transcendence I experienced that night is exactly why we travel, too. Our upcoming travel program with Just Go Holidays, In the Footsteps of Shakespeare, is such an exciting opportunity. Visiting the Globe and Shakespeare’s England is a must for any serious anglophile, and the chance to do it with a group of like-minded explorers is not to be missed.
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