October 14, 2022 | CULTURE | By Carlee Castillo | Photos by Lexi Kaer
Shakespeare in London was a perfect combination. London has always been a place of gritty fantasy – rainy perfection and historic rock and roll. The city is a hub for global culture, much of which is visible through its public transport system.
Kira Smith ’25, a former member of Professor Steve Hayward’s Shakespeare in London course, was thrilled by the labyrinthian tube system. Her favorite part of London was, “riding the underground. I really loved taking the tube and people watching while on our way to a show or to go on a new adventure. I learned so much about the city just from taking the train and experiencing a small bit of daily London life.” Like the fluorescent lights that brighten the underground, London feels abuzz with excitement and possibility.
As an English major, I’ve always had an admittedly pretentious soft spot for Shakespeare. After starring as fairy No. 5 in my 5th grade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was reborn. I would sneak a copy of Romeo and Juliet behind assigned readings and watch any movie adaptions I could get my hands on.
Yet, over the years, my passion for iambic pentameter dwindled. Although Shakespeare was a bit of a means to an end of arriving in London, my appreciation for his work was reignited on this trip.
Walking the same grounds that have inspired Shakespeare’s plays was surreal. Another classmate, Mariel Zech ’23, recounts one of her favorite events from the trip being when, “after reading Henry VIII, we visited Hampton Court Palace and got to see where Henry VIII lived and was a terrible person. We then had class while sitting outside the palace.” Everyone on the trip was so eager to explore and learn.
“That energy was palpable,” says Zech.
My favorite night of the trip began with Richard III and ended with tipsy babysitting. To take a break from the city of London, our class embarked on a three hour train ride to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. This quaint town is straight out of a storybook. The cobblestone roads are lined with dainty flowers. Swans and wooden rowboats alike circle the clear lakes – perfectly green trees arching overhead as a Ferris wheel rotates slowly in the distance.
The Stratford Playhouse is not immune from this dreamlike charm. Complete with velvet seats and ornate costuming, the venue, sets, and performances are lavish.
Richard III is a grotesque play, completely devoid of Stratford-upon-Avon’s whimsy, about the allure of power and what evils it can cause man to commit. The actors captured the grim aura of the play effortlessly and the visuals of the production continue to haunt me. After viewing this performance, our class was in need of a more cheerful activity.
The Dirty Duck is a traditional English pub, specializing in salty entrees andstiffdrinks. Sat around a worn wooden table, a group of us enjoyed (maybe a few too many) refreshments. This was what defined London for me– laughing with friends and an exceptional sense of camaraderie. Even though I had only met some of my classmates just weeks before, it felt like I had known them for a lifetime.
Lexi Kaer ’24 felt a similar sense of closeness. Experiencing London with her friends “made the trip most special,” she said. “It was nice that we had the freedom to have our own fun while also having a really good support system of adults.”
After the Dirty Duck, we skipped and stumbled back to our bed and breakfast, where we were met with a mother and child sitting outside the door. They had been separated from the rest of their family at the train station and had no way to enter their room. Perhaps a bit too eagerly, I agreed to watch the stranded child while her mother went back to the station to look for her husband and son. Some friends and I sat outside with this frightened child for about half-an-hour.
During this time, Shavi told us she is in the fourth grade, had an upcoming science fair, and demonstrated some incredibly cool magic tricks. Her mother returned empty handed, prompting us to move into the bed and breakfast where multiple unanswered calls were made and copious amounts of Cocoa Pebbles consumed.
The bed and breakfast owner was fast asleep and after another unsuccessful hour passed, we resolved to go to sleep. I imagined that Shavi and her mother had found somewhere else to stay. Yet, the next morning at breakfast I saw their entire family through the window embracing, reunited.
Adaptability was essential for this course. Professor Steve Hayward and his family were experts in this. His familiarity with the area and easy-going nature created a strong sense of safety and support.
Professor Hayward’s personal favorite aspect of the trip was the class expedition to a rural opera house where we watched an operatic adaptation of Othello. “It was a very rural setting, hard to get to, and everything that could go wrong on the way did– train strikes, train cancellations, taxis getting lost,” he recalls, “But students were so patient, were of such continual good humor that it stands out to me as a highlight, a reminder of everything that’s great about these kinds of classes.”
Shakespeare in London was one of the most transformative, special occasions of my life. Not only did the course introduce me to a rich cultural history, but it provided me with memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.