Brits, Bath and Beyond
By KATIE REDMILES
It seemed only fitting that the best day of my time in England occurred at the birthplace of my most beloved playwright, William Shakespeare. It was a day filled with Christmas, sex, violence and friends.
Every semester during the year the Advanced Studies in England program takes its students to Stratford-upon-Avon, where they stay in Bed and Breakfasts for two nights and three days. During this time, the students get free admission into the Shakespeare properties, see three plays performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and hear lectures on the plays by two experts from Oxford.
I have experienced moments, days and places during my time here that I could never have imagined the glory of. For fall break, I took a tour of Italy and saw the cities that even as young as five I dreamed of gallivanting through. I witnessed the oldest testaments to human history I had ever seen, and I reveled in the inexplicable beauties humankind could create.
I ventured to the underestimated and highly underrated literary treasure snuck in the mystic hills of Wales. Tintern Abbey was all Wordsworth felt and described, and yet so much more, for the ethereal nature of the ruins and the earth surrounding it affects each person differently. I could not shake its effect on me for several days after, and even now thinking on it, I can feel its eerie influence working through me.
Yet, as refreshing and monumental as these times were, there was something missing that Stratford illuminated.
In an attempt to have us meet other students on the program we don’t usually come in contact with, the program mixed up the groups who would stay in the Bed and Breakfasts together. The result was instant, I found myself cracking jokes in the humor that has been passed over as obtuse or weird by the students I normally live with, but this time was received with boisterous laughter and similar humor in return. I met people who shared the same interests with me, such as the importance of having intellectual conversation, to minute things such as sharing in the guilty pleasure TV show “Once Upon a Time.”
I sat around a table of eight during lunch, made up mostly of people staying in the same Bed and Breakfast as me, and was enthralled by the different conversations loudly happening at once. I was elated by the positive reception of my true personality.
We followed lunch with a walk around the town. Small as it was, the old wood and white houses that dominated the Elizabethan era made it feel like a stroll through the set of a movie. Every shop front was also covered in Christmas decorations and advertisements. Christmas starts in this country the day after Halloween since there is no holiday in between for them. We walked in and out of shops mindlessly, focusing more on the conversations we were having with each other. Even when we stopped in a magic shop to get “butterbeer” (it was an atrocious attempt) the conversation did not lag or cease to challenge my mind, although, being with people of similar interests, it did divert into intense Potter talk occasionally.
After hearing a lecture by my eccentric and beyond British Shakespeare professor, the new friends I spent the day with all went to a pub for dinner before heading to the show of the night. At dinner I felt my mind present, felt that I was listening instead of waiting to talk and felt that I too would be heard when I spoke.
Then we went to see the play. I sat next to the girl I became closest to during the day and had bonded with a bit earlier in the program. She too was as enthusiastic about theater as I was. Bouncing in our seats waiting for the show to begin, we excitedly chatted about what we hoped to see, yet our initial excitement could not have prepared us for the explosive awe we would be in by the end of the show.
It was a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s contemporary Webster’s “The White Devil.” Its power and sheer brilliance was so evocative that once the lights went black at the end the only response I could garner was to loudly laugh out a curse word. No one, not even my two Shakespeare professors who are almost as old as Shakespeare himself, told me that was inappropriate behavior because they all knew that was the only way to behave after such an electrifying show.
The biggest reason for the show’s success was by far the gender bending of the villainous character Falminio. Supposed to be a brother pimping out his sister to survive in the hierarchal world, in this show became a diabolic sister giving a testimony to the harshness women experience living in a man’s world. With Falminio as a woman, the director highlighted the issue of women attacking other women and adopting the patriarchal cruelty within themselves in order to survive.
The sister Vittoria was also a huge contributor to the mind-blowing performance. Her acting was so enthralling one could not look away even if they wanted to (except if Falminio was talking, in her tight pants and dark blazer), but it was her speeches written by Webster and the way they still resonate to a modern world that left my mouth agape the whole two and a half hours.
After the show, two of the new friends and I went to find our favorite actress, Falminio, and we borderline stalked her to a local pub to tell her what an amazing job she did. She was more than receiving and welcoming of our words. We walked away from our great conversation, a little starstruck, and I was suddenly hit with the enormity of the moment. I was in England, in the birthplace of the bard, I had just had my mind expanded through a great play and I was in company of friends. All of that combined brought about a strong resolution of happiness.
I was asked recently if this experience was what I expected, and no, it was not at all. As the days are dwindling, what I am taking away from this study abroad experience is that there are amazing places in this world that deserve notice and appreciation, there are places that just by seeing will affect you for the rest of your life and there are places that can only truly be experienced through full immersion. Yet, despite the truth of travel and what one sees on these grand adventures, a place can never truly bring happiness without the people that love you and you love in return surrounding you.