Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter Houses and Shakespeare

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested.”—Thomas Paine in Common Sense (x)

I am determined to catch up. This determination will cost me a day, no doubt, but a day well spent.

2 October 2009

At Canterbury, and York Cathedrals, my favorite rooms were the Chapter Houses—little rooms off of the cloisters where monks would congregate to read a Chapter of the Bible every day. There were two main reasons I liked the room: first, for architectural reasons—at Canterbury, the room is rectangular and has several magnificent stained-glass windows,; in York the room is circular, and has better acoustics than could be recreated today—the Chapter House in York is also the largest without a center column to hold up the ceiling in all of England. Both had steps around the room where the monks could sit during the reading. But more than that, I loved the idea of the Chapter Houses: that every day the monks would gather together to read a Chapter of the Bible, perhaps discuss the meanings, perhaps contemplate the word of God. But, even if they didn’t discuss or contemplate, they did build a separate room simply for the use of reading God’s words.

Of course everything about Westminster Abbey was beautiful, but his Chapter House was slightly disappointing, seeing as it was my favorite room of both Canterbury and York Cathedrals. The entire place was utterly crammed with monuments, memorials, graves, flowers, people and history. My favorite thing there was the coronation chair. The coronation chair has been used for every coronation in England since 1305. It’s small—smaller than you’d imagine a chair used for the crowning of Kings and Queens to be, and it’s old. It’s less impressive than you’d think; there are names and words carved into the wood, nail marks in the back and seat of the chair from the fabrics nailed to the chair as decoration for coronations, and the wood is worn away at the armrests. But it’s gorgeous.

Also at Westminster Abbey is the tomb and shrine of Edward the Confessor, Elizabeth I, and Mary I. Then there’s Poet’s Corner—where Chaucer is buried— Lady’s Chapel—which has the most gorgeous quire and ceiling—and of course all the normal parts of a Cathedral, which makes it no less beautiful, the nave, quire, transepts etc.

Also that day I went to the National Gallery where I saw Van Gogh’s Sunflower Painting. I went there for a class fieldtrip, which I loved. Being able to see the paintings we’re studying is still something I can’t fully get over, and the National Gallery has such a large collection. But, I took a picture of the scene I saw my second day in London which was my first, ‘I’m in London’ experience—because I looked up and saw Big Ben off into the distance.

Lastly, the Globe—which deserves another mention. The Globe is my favorite place in London. I know that sounds like a presumptuous thing to say, since I’ve only been here a month, and have most certainly not seen everything there is to see, so I leave that statement open for possible change, but so far, the Globe is my favorite place in London. I’ve been inside four times, and have been to the productions, “As You Like It” (which I saw twice), “A New World,” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” I’d be going 12 more times if the season weren’t ending. My favorite of the three productions was undoubtedly “As You Like It” which I enjoyed much more the second time, when I paid £5 to stand in front of the stage, rather than £13 to sit way off to the side. The reason standing is better than sitting, is because you can see everything the actors do—their facial expressions, especially—and it makes Shakespeare come alive past all recognition. I swore I read As You Like It, but when I saw it on stage, it was just so much better.

A New World—written by Trevor Griffiths was about the life of Thomas Paine. I went because Thomas Paine is one of my favorite writers, and by far my favorite rhetorician. Griffiths paid America it’s dues by making the whole first half of the play about Paine’s time writing during the American Revolution, however, the entire play made more sense after the second half, when Paine moved back to Europe and wrote in England and France, pushing for revolution of authority and ideals in both places, like he had in America. The production was incredible. If I could have renamed the play, I think I’d have called it “The Revolutionist,” but I’m sure Griffiths had a reason for calling it “A New World.” My problem with that title was that it was slightly misleading, although I can think of a lot of deep reasons why it fits Paine’s life well.

There was one point in the play that hit me hardest. When the French Revolution was going rampant, and the use of the guillotine was in full swing, Paine was avidly preaching against the chaos and bloodshed going on at the time. Many of the revolutionists he’d been working with and writing for disagreed with Paine’s desires to do without the violence, and in a sense pushed him out of their circles. He’d just finished the first part of ‘Rights of Man’ when, because of a misunderstanding, Paine was found by revolutionists and thought to be against the revolution—he wasn’t the wearing the right hat, as I recall—and he was thrown in jail. He was in jail a long time, and the man in the position of ambassador for France from America did nothing to save Paine from his imprisonment (Paine and the current ambassador had disagreed about a lot of things during the American Revolution and didn’t get along). Without much hope, Paine continued writing the second part of ‘Rights of Man.’ Then one day he got a visit from a man who claimed to be the new ambassador of France from America—he said that the previous ambassador had left not a single note about Paine’s imprisonment, and that he’d only just found out. He promised to try to get Paine out of jail, but before he left Paine made him promise to give the second part of ‘Rights of Man’ to a friend to publish. On the ambassador’s second visit to Paine, he told him he was still working on his release, but first he pulled a small book out of his bag and put it in Paine’s hands, “American.” Paine looks up at him, realizing it’s been published, but then the ambassador sinks his hand into his bag again and pulls out another small book, “English,” he says. Then again, pulling out another small book, “French.”

It’s just that Paine’s been sitting in this dark, damp jail cell for months and months, without the knowledge of whether or not his writing was published, and not only has it been published, but published in three separate countries. The whole theatre was silent.

I walked home from the Globe with a new appreciation for Thomas Paine—the writer I’d already admired.

No comments:

Post a Comment