Victorian era


Pix & notes: The Globe theater

I’ve been to two plays at Shakespeare’s Globe: The Tempest and Macbeth. Extraordinary, delightful, exceptional, memorable experiences, both times. I can’t recommend it too highly!

This wooden O: the Globe

Before 1576, when James Burbage built the Theatre for the sole purpose of staging plays, you enjoyed your theatrical performances in the home of a wealthy patron, the dining hall of your college, or the yard of common inn. I always think of that particular venue must have been like watching a performance of Our Town or Grease in the parking lot of a motel. Fun, if not very comfortable, and it must have been a beast for the actors.

White Hart, Southwark

The Burbage had his brainstorm and built that round wooden building in Shoreditch, north of London’s city walls. That location was judiciously chosen. It’s nothing to walk up Bishopsgate, past the Dolphin and Bedlam Hospital — ten minutes if there’s a mad throng out of doors that day. But the City authorities have little to say about what goes on out here, so you have a better chance of putting on the show you want.

Richard Burbage

The Theatre was so successful, other theaters were soon built. First the Curtain, also in Shoreditch, then Rose in Southwark. Then James’s son Richard formed a syndicate, so to speak, of actors in the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to build the Globe in Southwark. It was to be used exclusively by Lord Chamberlain’s Company. One of those actors was William Shakespeare, who made far more money from his shares in the building than he ever did as a writer. That proportion of return is still true today. 

The original Globe was built in 1599 and destroyed by fire in 1613. It was rebuilt in 1614, but closed by an ordinance of the Long Parliament in 1642. “The order cited the current “times of humiliation” and their incompatibility with “public stage-plays”, representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity.” And sorry, y’all, but I do not have the attentional capacity to read about the Long Parliament today!

Raised from the ashes

Sam Wanamaker

So, the Globe was closed. It was a wooden building, mostly open to the elements. It wouldn’t have taken long to fall apart. It vanished, as far as we’re concerned, until an American actor and director named Sam Wanamaker became possessed by the desire to recreate the original theater, as close to its original location as possible. The man was nothing if not persistent. He established a trust, raised millions of dollars, and got the job done. It’s as authentic as anything can be, right down to the hand-whittled pegs that hold the walls together. Hats off, Mr. Wanamaker, wherever you are!

I also recommend the guided tour — more work for off-duty actors — which I think you can do any time of year. It’s fascinating, the whole story, of how they figured out what to build and where and how, scavenging old materials and re-learning lost crafts. Really a monumental effort and a testament to our love of Shakespeare and drama and great acting and all of it.

An incomparable experience

If you ever get to go to London during the season, do not miss the chance to see a play at the Globe. They do lots of things besides Shakespeare, but see a Shakespeare play. It’s so much fun! You’ll never forget it. I’m not a big theater-goer, though I always love it and wish I would go more, so perhaps this is commonplace — but I doubt it. I think the Globe is special, both for audience and actors, especially when the play is one of Will’s. Book that seat as far ahead as you possibly can. Go by yourself or with a crowd — just go. And lunch in the cafe first, because they have very stylish sandwiches.

I’ve been twice, to see The Tempest and Macbeth. Both times I booked in February for a late summer performance and got great seats in the second level of the gallery. Wear sunscreen! You’re not far from the stage anywhere in the Globe, really. It feels small, intimate, immediate. The groundlings — the people who stand up in the big space in front of the stage — are usually busloads of high school students these days, not smelly peasants. No pix, no snacks, so no throwing of hazelnut shells and apple cores. You don’t need to worry about people taking a piss at the end of your row anymore, either.

But you can expect interaction between actors and audience. That’s part of the fun. One of the greenest members of the cast was clearly fascinated by the audience and seemed to enjoy us as much as we enjoyed him. Now of course I can’t remember who he played and I’m not finding it by swiftly searching. He was one of the Scottish noblemen, possibly MacDuff. At one point he’s wondering where Donalbain has gone, I think — Duncan’s son. He asks his questions of the groundlings, looking them right in the eye. One of them is so overcome by the force of the questions, he cried, “I got nothing for you, man!” We all laughed.

That would’ve been better if I remembered the lines. But go yourselves, and come back with a better story. Here are a few photographs to whet your appetites.













Pix & notes: Kew Gardens

I posted pix of the palace last month. This month I’m going to share more photos of the glorious gardens at Kew. I’ve been there twice and will happily go again next time I visit England. It’s an ideal place to spend your jet lag day, out of the urban hustle-bustle, surrounded by greenery and flowers, with kew2well-tended walks and tempting cafes.

It isn’t cheap. Tickets for adults are L15.50 =~ $19.50 =~e18.30. And it’s a bit of journey: you take the Green District line west to Richmond, which is in Zone 4. But you can stay all day. Stroll, eat, browse the shop, visit the palace and the greenhouses, take a nap under a tree…

The exotic garden at Kew Park

The village of Kew, being handy to Richmond Palace, became a locus in the sixteenth for the grand houses of courtiers attending upon their Tudor monarchs. The 300 acres that are now the gardens were once farmed as part of one of those estates.

kew-chinese-pagodaThen during the eighteenth century, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, the Dowager Princess of Wales, enlarged the exotic garden that Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury had created, no doubt to show off the unusual plants he had collected from the expanding British empire. Curious structures were built to enhance the landscape, like the Chinese pagoda, built in 1761 and still there.

The gardens were formally adopted by the Crown in 1840, so to speak, becoming Royal Botanic Gardens. The first director, William Hooker, gradually enlarged the gardens to their present size, 300 acres.

The Palm House

The first thing you see as you begin your tour is an enormous greenhouse. This photo comes from Wikimedia Commons; I failed to get a good shot of this very large building. This amazing structure was erected between 1844 and 1848, designed by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner. Wikipedia tells us that “it is considered the world’s most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure.”

It’s astounding to enter inside and be suddenly enveloped in rich, warm, wet, tropical air. I didn’t takekew-palm-house pictures inside either, fool that I am. I visited this place before I realized how useful photos are for a person who writes a weekly blog.

I did take pictures of the Queen’s Beasts, however, who guard the magnificent greenhouse. The sign says “Each of these ten beasts was once used as an heraldic badge by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s forbears and together they symbolize the various strands of the royal ancestry The plaster originals were made by Mr. James Woodford O.B.E., R.A. and placed in front of Westminster Abbey annexe for the coronation of Her Majesty in 1953. These replicas in Portland stone are by the same sculptor and were presented in 1956 by an anonymous donor.”

I really need a griffin like this one of Edward’s. It could guard my front porch.

The Bull of Clarence
The Griffin of Edward
The Griffin of Edward
The Unicorn of Scotland
The Unicorn of Scotland
The Lion of Mortimer
The Lion of Mortimer


Kew Science

astonishing trees
From the collection of astonishing trees


These gardens aren’t just for strolling and refreshing the city-dweller’s weary soul. Kew Gardens is a major global scientific resource. The botanical collection contains 8.5 million items, according to their website, which “represent over 95% of known flowering plant genera and more than 60% of known fungal genera.” Jiminy Christmas!

Botanists and lovers of growing things, including fungus, can explore a great deal of information about Kew’s collections and the research conducted there online. But I just go there to look at the curious trees, the fields of mind-blowing bluebells, other marvels collected over the several hundred years of the garden’s evolution.


These photos were taken on May 16, 2013. I think I’ve shown you some of them… or is it deja vu? Anyway, the bluebells were at their peak and utterly hypnotic. I strolled slowly through these meadows, enraptured by the glorious blueness of it all. Every now and then I’d vaguely notice another person, strolling enrapture through the glorious blueness of it all. Rapture! Blueness! Serenity! For only $20 and 30 minutes on a train. If you’re ever in London in mid-May, go! Go! Drop everything and go!






bend in thames
A bend in the Thames for a last look