Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Waste Land walk--and more

Actually, it wasn't just a Waste Land walk.  I also saw things related to Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the expression "thrown into the clink."  My walk was followed a couple of days later by another set of the kinds of experiences I especially like to have in London--wanderings to spots that have special meaning and resonance to me.

Last Thursday, I spent part of the afternoon combining an errand with a T. S. Eliot/Geoffrey Chaucer/London theater walk. I headed out shortly before 3:00 and returned shortly before 5:00--so this all lasted about 2 hours, from leaving the BYU London Centre to returning.

It was an overcast afternoon, with moments of wind and a few sprinkles of rain--a nice atmosphere for the spots I visited. I took the Central Line to Bank, got out, and saw an impressive building, the Royal Exchange, located at the intersection of several streets. This is part of the financial area of "the City"--the City of London.

I checked the nearby spot on Cornhill St. where T. S. Eliot worked as a bank clerk for Lloyd's Bank. I looked at Queen Victoria Street and walked down King William Street, both mentioned in The Waste Land. I checked two other streets mentioned in the poem: Cannon Street and Lower Thames Street. Along the way as well as later on my walk, I saw lots of Christopher Wren church steeples and stopped at a couple of churches mentioned in the poem: St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Magnus Martyr. This last one has a beautiful Wren interior (nicely refurbished), described by Eliot in the phrase "Inexplicable spendour of Ionian white and gold" (there are interior columns of the Ionic order, mainly white with some gold decoration).

Then I walked across London Bridge ("A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many") and went to Southwark Cathedral, a church Shakespeare and many other actors and playwrights attended. Shakespeare's brother Edmund is buried there, as are the playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger; also the medieval writer John Gower and the Jacobean clergyman Bishop Launcelot Andrewes (a friend and contemporary of Donne's, one of the 50+ who worked on creating the King James Bible, and famous for sermons, one of which T. S. Eliot uses in his poem "Journey of the Magi").

One of those helping visitors in the cathedral talked with me about the literary and theatrical associations and also told me about a visit not too long ago by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. In the 1700s a Mohawk chief had come from America to present a petition to King George II, but died of smallpox before he could do so. He's buried in the Southwark Cathedral yard (mainly because it's technically outside of London and so foreigners could be buried there). In 2006, the current Mohawk chief came from the U.S. and presented the petition to Queen Elizabeth, and she dedicated a monument in the churchyard to his 18th-century predecessor.

Next I headed over to the George Inn, one of the few remaining old inn fronts, overlooking Talbot Yard where plays would once have been performed. Talbot Yard was once also the location of the Tabard Inn, where The Canterbury Tales begins.

After that Chaucer moment, I walked past the Borough market and down Clink St. (once part of an area notorious for foul prisons and the source of our expression "getting thrown into the clink") on my way to Shakespeare's Globe.  (To avoid any confusion, I should note that Shakespeare's Globe is a RECONSTRUCTION based on what scholars think the original Globe looked like.  It's been built in the general vicinity but not at the exact location of the original Globe.)

At the Globe, I bought a ticket for Henry IV, part 1, on Saturday afternoon (no yard tickets were left, so I had a seat--more on that later), then walked over the Thames on Millenium Bridge to St. Paul's and took the Central Line from St. Paul's back to Queensway.
On Saturday I did indeed return to the Globe for a performance of Henry IV, part 1, the first time I believe I've seen it performed on stage.  Apart from a mummer's play added at the beginning, with a fair amount of pseudo-historical vulgarity, I enjoyed the performance.  The Falstaff and Hotspur were both excellent; the actor who played Prince Hal was also very good.  And just about everybody else did a fine job.  I found a few of the speeches, especially near the beginning of the play, a bit wearisome and hard to follow--but that's Shakespeare's fault, a fault Samuel Johnson agrees with me on seeing as such, by the way.
I saw the first half of the play from my seated position, with a slightly obstructed view.  I found it hard to focus and feel engaged.  And so after the interval, I went into the yard, and watched the second half standing and leaning against the stage.  I much preferred seeing it that way.  For me at least, the Globe experience is several times better being in the yard and getting up close and personal.
It turns out it was Sam Wanamaker Day at the Globe.  (Wanamaker was the visionary whose energy and enthusiasm helped make the reconstructed Globe a reality, though he didn't live to see it completed.)  Stanley Wells, an important Shakespearean scholar and editor (though perhaps not the demi-god he was described as at the ceremony), was the recipient of this year's Sam Wanaker Award.  I stood right behind him (impressed by his hot pink shirt, the collar of which showed above his jacket) as he prepared to mount the stairs to the stage and receive his award.
After the post-play ceremony, I walked into the Globe lobby and saw a couple of familiar faces: Tim Slover and Jane England, here with a group of students from the University of Utah.  After happy embraces and a bit of chat, they went to an after play discussion, and I moved on to more adventures.
The adventures were (1) finding Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station (it's actually closer to Platform 8, tucked away in a bit of a corner); (2) walking from King's Cross up St. Pancras Road to Old St. Pancras Church.  I looked through the graveyard, struck by how few of the inscriptions are legible, how few of the "hungry generations" who lived and died there are remembered.  A group of headstones have even been moved into a clump surrounding a tree--the work of Thomas Hardy when he was employed to move old remains to make way for rail construction.  But finally, I found the grave of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (the monument gives her her husband's surname).  This is the spot where Percy Byssche Shelley and Mary Godwin (later the author of Frankenstein) declared their adulterous love. 

I believe Shelley's wife Harriet was still alive at the time--she who later drowned in the Serpentine.  I've also visited that spot, near the BYU London Centre, and thought about her sad life.  The marriage with Percy had started very happily.  But Percy was a (self-justifying and, I'm afraid, very selfish) tremulously sensitive being who responded to his dream of ideal beauty and sympathy in whatever place he found or imagined it.  And so the marriage soured; Percy and Mary (and a sister) went off to the Continent.  And Harriet, abandoned, drowned.  I've discovered a scathing defense of Harriet written by Mark Twain and well worth reading.
But lest I end on a negative note, Percy wrote some great poetry and, as I've learned here, contributed some of the more thought-provoking passages to Frankenstein.


Margaret said...

Thanks, Honey! Beautifully written and pretty dang comprehensive!

Bruce Young said...

Now, almost a year later I wanted to add a couple of additional associations:

(1) I just finished teaching The Waste Land in English 202 (Masterpieces of World Literature 2). I love the poem, even though it is frustratingly obscure. It's best experienced by reading it out loud.

(In fact, the one thing I felt was missing from my blog post was the full atmosphere of the poem, which you can really only get by reading it--and not worrying too much about what it means.)

(2) Also, last night I watched an episode of DR. WHO titled "The Shakespeare Code" taking place partly at the Globe Theatre (meaning the reconstructed Globe-- used as a set to represent what was the new Globe Theatre in 1599). Shakespeare is a character in the episode. It was fun, despite a handful of serious inaccuracies.

And that reminds me: Note my reference to Sam Wanamaker as the one who envisioned a reconstructed Globe and initiated the project to have it built. Sam Wanamaker's wife, I believe, was Zoe Wanamaker, still an important actress on stage and screen--and, it turns out, the one who plays the character Cassandra in a couple of episodes of DR. WHO! (Maybe she got them permission to use the Globe as a set. Hmmm.)

Hwa said...

Ha Ha Ha! I think I can guess one of the reasons why you encouraged us to read the comment. Actually, Professor Young, it was also really fun to hear how you read the poem *out loud*. Thanks!


Natacia said...

I do say, that was a lovely blog if I've ever read one. I especially loved the note about platform 9 3/4, while not to discount the rest of the travel experience- I was just was not expecting the reference, and was pleasantly surprised.
And I agree with Hwa, it was very enjoyable to hear Dr. Young read The Waste Land out loud. He's an expert Eliot imitator who pointed out a million connections I would not have noticed otherwise.