Taking my first bite of Shakespeare

Rubbing shoulders with Shakespearean theatre has historically kicked my anglophilia into overdrive.

It started young and I almost lost a friend over it. Granted, I beat her out for the role of Act I’s Juliet in our fourth-grade (musical) production of “Romeo + Juliet.” I couldn’t help being the superior actress. She could stay salty.

In sixth grade, I submitted a fan-cast of the play as a school project. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley reprised their roles as star-crossed lovers. It was cute, but not as good as me calling Juliet “Romeo’s husband” while reciting the friar’s monologue in front of my entire class. It was also around that time my class met Finn Wittrock, who was in a local production of “Romeo + Juliet.”

Somewhere on the middle school timeline, we studied “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” There was a school production of it and one of our resident cute, pop-punk girls scored the role of Puck. She owned it, looking like a glittery, neon rock ‘n’ roll dream.

I wrote about the witches for my “Macbeth” thesis paper. The next year, we took to recreating scenes from “The Tempest” to appease our tenth-grade English teacher. “King Lear” came in clutch for an AP exam.

When I got to college, I revisited all of these plays and then some. I then had a legitimate reason to thirst over Tom Hiddleston in “The Hollow Crown.” Real talk: “Henry IV” ended up being my favorite piece I read that semester. And it all came full circle when I wrote and presented vigorously about AimΓ© CΓ©saire’s “La TempΓͺte.” (At worst,Β CΓ©saire’s play was just a French translation or Caribbean fan-fiction. At best, it’s a critical study in race + colorism and makes a case forΒ dΓ©colonisation. What’s not to admire about that?)

Today, all that anglophilia amounted to something quite real, quite tangible, quite legitimate. I went to the Globe to see “Much Ado About Nothing.”

There was a quiet, delicate sort of anticipation hovering around me when I exited London Bridge station to meet Haley. Before we even laid eyes on the theatre, we stopped for fish tacos at a kitschy, American-themed spot called Porky’s.

Johnny Cash posters and framed photos of Aretha Franklin lined the walls. There was a wide array of bourbons and a selection was named after Chuck Berry.

But of course, even at an American restaurant, Haley and I ended up eating fish + chips anyway.

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Peep my lipstick stain.

We paid the bill (how many Americans does it take to sort through the strangely angular and irregularly minted mess that are pounds and pences?) and headed up the street. We looked to our left and there it was, staring us in the face. The most famous theatre in the Western world.

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We didn’t see any signs for a “yard,” so we had to ask for guidance. We were ushered through a walkway into the back of the main building. And there, you could really see it: the white stone and wooden trim that just screamed 1599.

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It was strange being caught between a glossy welcome center and this 400-year-old structure. But it was no stranger than looking up at the castle-like structure of Tower Hill with skyscrapers in the background. Old school meets new school. That’s London for you.

We entered into the cylindrical theatre and that’s when it really hit me. Oh my gosh. I’m in the Globe. I’m really in… the Globe. The place I had only seen in textbooks. The place I had envied from behind a class TV and laptop screen. This was the place that had caused fourth-grade beef, spawned sixth-grade embarrassment and incited eighth-grade emo longing, constructed a ninth- + tenth- + twelfth-grade struggle bus and a college career made that much more interesting.

Looking up at the throngs of people tucked into balconies and thrust into the yard, universally awash with a giddy glow, I felt a lump form in my throat.

Seeing “Much Ado” at the Globe satisfied so many of my needs as a viewer. This incarnation of the play was set in 1914 Mexico. The cultural context lent itself to singing and dancing, which added another layer of liveliness to the dramatic-as-hell plot and the Extra characters.

It was also hyper-real as a viewer. I could smell the tobacco from Margaret’s and Don Pedro’s cigars. I could catch the scent of gun powder and that fire smell of the torches.

Speaking of gun shots, I flinched at every single one: Benedick’s and Margaret’s and Hero’s and Don Pedro’s. I flinched at the crack of Antonia’s whip. I gawked at the bleeding soldier on a stretcher that emerged from behind Haley at the play’s open. I marveled at the industrial horses the cavalry rode in on.

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Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

A scene that sticks in my mind is aesthetically is Claudio laying Hero to rest. Illuminated by fire against the purple lights, Claudio looks ghostly as mourns his beloved through song. It was even more eerie with the smoke and natural mist of the night. Did I mention the Globe is open-air, just like the good ol’ days?

With London weather and all, I ended up buying a poncho. For one so cute and design-forward, I don’t think it was a bad choice.

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A cute and apt line from Portia’s monologue in “The Merchant of Venice”

To say the acting was “good” is lazy. Of course it was good. I was at the Globe! It was good in that not only did I believe the characters, but the passion of every person on stage moved viewers despite (what many see as) the “language barrier” of Shakespeare.

More than any other playwright, Shakespeare made the kind of stuff that’s best if watched live in some way, shape or form. All the stuffiness of speech gives way to the richness of the plot and complexity of the lives we’re peeking in on.

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Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

The use of modern and commonly understood speech patterns helped make the dialogue more digestible + accessible.

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Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

I’ll probably be able to give more insight as to the play itself later on, since I’ll be studying the piece in my Shakespeare course. I can say, for my first exposure to “Much Ado,” that it warmed my heart as a rom-com.

It also has all the hallmarks of a Shakespeare play: war and love and family and misunderstanding. It’s about bad wingmen and all kinds of jealousy. It’s also very much about strong women. In an age of the Women’s March on Washington and #NastyWomen, Juana’s (Don Pedro’s sister’s) monologue about what she will and won’t do at men’s behest resonated enough to draw a spirited whoop from the crowd.

Being in the Globe today struck me in two different ways. Being in this historic place, one that I’ve mooned over and dreamed about for over a decade, touched me. It made little fourth-grade Caroline’s heart smile. And to another point, I felt so humbled and so small. Β It really sunk in that I am really here in England and I am so far away from home.

Looking around during intermission, I zoomed out a bit from the mental map I’ve created of the world. I realized that if you were looking at the Globe on Google Maps right now (as I had, months ago, when I was thinking about applying for study abroad), I would be less than the little red pushpin hovering over 21 New Globe Walk. I would be a pin prick on a pin prick.

It put things in perspective for me, to say the least. I can only wonder what other moments will strike me as deeply as visiting the Globe did today.

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