Town mouse on England

It has been a deeply English week, albeit one of contrasts. One night, we went to the opening of ‘Cartoons and Coronets’, the exhibition of Osbert Lancaster’s work at the Wallace Collection. Lancaster observed Britain’s post-War decline with polished urbanity.

The next evening, we saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe. I had never seen the Globe in operation before. Shakespeare’s England was the reverse of Lancaster’s: gutsy, confident, raw. The Globe, of course, faithfully mirrors the semi-open-air theatre built on Bankside in 1599.

Two things particularly struck me, beyond the performance itself and the need to wrap up warm (how was it, on a chilly October evening, that some actors managed to bare their chests? Brrr…). One was the number of times that Shakespeare refers to globes in the course of the play. As well he might: the play was written the year the Globe opened.

The second was the ingenious use made of an unmechanised stage. Presumably, characters in Shakespeare’s day could have descended on ropes the oddly spectacular way that Puck appeared. There was certainly a trap door in the stage (Hamlet’s father can be heard in the ‘cellarage’). Every time it opened, it made us jump.