Shakespeare connections made during a trip to China and England
by Stephen Hastings
Our trip began in China. When asked to think about Shakespeare connections made on the trip, when considering China, my mind registered blank. This caused me to make a note to research how much was known by Shakespearian England about China.
On reflecting on the England part of our journey I did discovery some connections. Shakespeare was not in our minds as we planned what we would do on this trip. On earlier trips we had visited Stratford and Bosworth Field (August 21, 1485) and seen a very amusing Comedy of Errors at the Globe Theatre.
On this trip I was able to make four Shakespeare connections.
Firstly we spent a night in Monmouth, Wales. When you stand in the city centre square you will see a large statue of Charles Rolls, of Rolls Royce fame. Then let your gaze go to the town hall behind and you will see a small bust of Henry V on the wall, about first floor level. The town also has a very ruined castle where he was born.
Secondly we had a morning tea break in Tewksbury (battle of Tewkesbury 4 may 1471, mentioned in Richard III) on our way to the Malvern Hills and the birth place of Edward Elgar. Tewksbury is located on the River Severn and we had a delightful short walk along the river bank path, through what is referred to as the Severn Ham. The Norman period Abbey was a highlight with a stunning ceiling. We took morning tea at the Royal Hop Pole (public house) which according to Wikipedia is mentioned in the Pickwick Papers. I found it to be a very friendly, rambling and comfortable place to enjoy a hot chocolate and I can recommend the toilets.
On BBC television I saw King Lear with Anthony Hopkins. The cast list included many well known British actors:
Goneril: Emma Thompson
Regan: Emily Watson
Cordelia: Florence Pugh
Earl of Gloucester: Jim Broadbent
Earl of Kent: Jim Carter
Duke of Cornwall: Tobias Menzies
Duke of Albany: Anthony calf
Oswald : Christopher Ecclestone
I found a review on line, by James Walton (The Spectator). Here is a short extract.
“Directed by Richard Eyre, the programme opened in what seemed to be present-day Britain under military dictatorship. After a few establishing shots of the Shard, the Gherkin and so on, the camera zoomed into a heavily guarded Tower of London where Lear was about to announce his doomed plan around a shiny conference table.
In fact, for a while, this updating seemed both half-hearted and a bit confusing. If Lear really was a military dictator, why did everyone keep calling him a king? Why were there no modern media in evidence as the country/kingdom fell apart? Why did Goneril live in a contemporary home counties mansion, but Gloucester in an old-style Tudor palace? Why, for that matter, were 21st-century people swearing ‘by Apollo’?
Gradually, though, it became apparent that these inconsistencies were a deliberate attempt to reimagine Shakespeare’s ahistorical world where realism and myth jostle together. Admittedly, even when you did appreciate this, there were some jarring moments. The refugee camp in the storm scene felt like a somewhat desperate stab at shoehorning in some ‘relevance’. The climactic hi-tech battle in the suburbs of Dover (complete with Cordelia in military fatigues) seemed like something that the original military-dictatorship conception meant that Eyre was rather stuck with. Nonetheless, the overall result definitely served to remind us of just what a strange, and at times utterly wild, play this is.”
I enjoyed it.
Lastly, we did succumb to a West End musical … Kiss me Kate. Rather banal dialogue but wonderful, wonderful Cole Porter music. The lady behind summed up the evening when she was overheard to say to her partner: “I’m so glad you brought me, this is so much fun”. Of course we sang “Brush Up your Shakespeare” all the way home.