Thursday, 15 April 2010

Boys Own Bones.

Westminster Abbey and the RSC have combined to run a series of lecture demonstrations on Shakespeare's kings over the next few weeks. It's an interesting format of mixing period music with excerpts from the plays and a contextual sermon reflecting both on reputation and interpretation. On Tuesday the focus was Edward III, the progenitor of all the many players in Shakespeare's history cycle.

I arrived late, long after all the decent seats were taken, and ended up standing in Poet's Corner surrounded by the silent statues of a boys own pantheon of heroes. Shakespeare himself, casual as a cat, fist on chin. Caught between action and reflection. David Garrick bursting through a heavy curtain to delight an audience. Fatty George Handel staring into the middle distance, awaiting his muse and peeping out cheekily from the shelves and alcoves a hundred others: Macaulay, Keble and rare Ben Jonson.

The lecture itself delivered by Canon Theologian Nicholas Sagovsky was fascinating and the music haunting. Unfortunately it was the actors who disappointed. Eschewing mics, they struggled with the reverberation of the high vaulting ceiling and frequently mistimed their responses as they tried to get a grip on the unusual acoustics of the space. It was impossible to hear.

After a few minutes I gave up on them and went for an unsupervised walk, past Chaucer and through to the jumble sale of tombs at the South End of the Abbey. Plantagenet Kings are two a penny here - Richards, Edwards and Henrys. It felt strangely thrilling to trespass amongst them - each an inspiration for our enduring cultural myths of leadership and nobility. I hovered by Henry V and was reminded how Samuel Pepys had both been here before me and allowed to see into the open grave of Henry's French wife Katherine - the Queen immortalised by Shakespeare as a struggling English student. Tourism in 1669 clearly had a value added aspect.

'Here we did see by particular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois, and had the upper part of her body in my hands. And I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this my birthday, 36 year old that I did first kiss a Queen.'

As the show finished I crept along the East side, past the politicians, musicians and scientists and out into the night.

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