Thursday, August 14, 2014

July 24: Trafalgar Production of "Richard III"

I returned late last night from the Trafalgar Studios production of Shakespeare's Richard III, one of his most politically driven and famous plays. (Photo obtained from

This production was fantastic! I was giddy by the intermission and
exploding with thrills by the final curtain. The setting of this production was intriguing. Taking a nod from the play's famous opening line ("Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer"), the director decided to set the play in what truly was the winter of Britain's discontent, the winter of 1979. The post-war years notwithstanding, the 1970s were the worst decade Britain has known, full of economic turmoil, massive strikes, and impending violence. Evidently, there was even talk of overthrowing the Labor Party with a military coup. Margaret Thatcher took office in 1979, which did not exactly solve anything. Setting the play in this era was a gutsy move, in my opinion, and really enriched the play, making it very accessible. I was also fascinated with the setting given my paper will deal with Shakespeare’s sources for his history plays. Truly, the ease with which Richard III was adapted into a 1970s setting reflects the malleability of both the play itself and its source material. Shakespeare was simultaneously giving his audience a history lesson (albeit a biased one) and a drama with relatable characters in a relatable setting. I kept thinking about the sources for both Shakespeare and this production while watching the play.

The entire play took place in what looked like a military/office meeting. There were two long tables facing each other (perpendicular to the audience) with tacky olive green chairs to capture the seventies look. The stage resembled an office, complete with a coffee station. One really clever addition was the seventies televisions that faced the audience. There were two flanking the edges of the stage, and they projected Richard's image during his monologue and during Richmond's final monologue after he defeats Richard, becoming King Henry VII. There were also posters on the outer edges of the stage with different kings' pictures, depending on where we were in the play. Returning to the malleability of the sources, I was fascinated with the messages the set itself sent about images and the emphasis placed on “charisma” in a politician—or monarch—and how that message really does transcend eras. I’m not sure to what extent that will apply to my paper topic, but it’s worth investigating.

Going into the actual performances, though, Martin Freeman's was so good! He brought a level of comedy to the role I've neither witnessed nor considered. His tone and timing were impeccable: I've never seen Richard played that way. One of my favorite scenes is, of course, the famous wooing scene in which Richard seduces Lady Anne while she is crying next to her husband's corpse. He was hilarious and creepy at the same time, having just the right timing and tone with his delivery. For instance, when Anne asks him where he wants to be, he says "Your bedchamber" so matter-of-factly I just burst out laughing. Usually Richard is played as a lecherous villain, but I was more convinced by Martin's Richard, who is insecure, witty, and out-right scary. I laughed and felt repulsed, often at the same time, during the production. 

There was a good bit of blood in the play, which I liked given Shakespeare's play is extremely violent. For instance, after Hastings is beheaded, Tyrrel, one of Richard's handy-men, brings out a box. The actors, both Martin and the other actor, built up so much tension by opening the box slowly, then rummaging to pull out the head. For a moment, I expected them only to suggest they looked at the head, but that was not to be; Tyrrel pulls out the head and holds it up for everyone to see. They actually had a head (although not a real one) and soaked it with blood. You could hear the entire audience gasp when it was pulled out. Similarly, when Richard cuts another man's throat, there was blood shooting out. I saw girls on the front row jump, both from being startled and from not wanting fake blood on their clothes. 

Richard's death scene was equally scary, with Richard and Richmond facing each other with the thickest tension of the play. Martin Freeman was so great in this scene (as with the rest of the play): he is holding a knife when Richmond enters the stage, holding a gun. Martin looks at the knife briefly, kind of chuckled and shrugged, then gestured for Richmond to come fight him anyway. Again, this is just another example of how Martin blended comedy into the gruesomeness of this play. The scene ends with Richmond shooting Richard, and the gun shot was so loud it sounded real. Everyone, including me, jumped. Richmond's final monologue was extremely creepy, as they "televised" it on the two seventies televisions. 

When the play was over and the cast came out to bow together, I clapped vigorously; when Martin came out alone, however, I was the first one to jump up and give him a standing ovation.
This was a fantastic, exciting, and, above all, brilliantly acted play. I am beyond sad about leaving London in the next 48 hours, but I am overjoyed I had the opportunity to see this production here. Whenever I watch Sherlock, I'll be able to watch it with pride.

July 15, Part 2: Edinburgh Central Library

I know I keep saying this after practically every library visit, but Edinburgh Central Library really was my favorite of the trip. The library is huge and does so many good things for the community.  Let's just say the Edinburgh Central Library puts every other public library I've seen (UK and US) to shame! The building was constructed in 1890 and is part of the Historic Scotland registry, which means they face the same kinds of construction challenges as the New College Library. However, the Central Library has learned how to adapt under pressure. 

According to Fiona, the charming and indefatigable librarian who gave us the grand tour, the library has gone through many renovations over the past year and a half, and several of the rooms and services we saw were completed as recently as May. 

There are several floors in this library, and they have used their space well. The adult fiction/non-fiction part of the library was the prettiest. 

In this picture are the books on reserve. I took a picture of them because the librarians apparently cover the reserved books with a special wrapping. I thought this was very smart because no one can see what the patron has ordered. This way, people are less likely to steal bestsellers. 

The music library is in a new location and is very well laid out.
The local history library is actually what you see in the bottom floor; the music library is where I stood while taking the picture on the right. As you can see, the local history part of the library was very accessible and comfortable to use. 

The reference library is farther down in the building. Interestingly, the reference library is still in the same building as it was in 1890, and they still have a...wait for it...card catalog! That is my gigantic paw in the picture below. Apparently, they did not dispose of their card catalog once they switched over to the online form. I thought this was smart, considering in the event of a power outage or any other catastrophe, all is not lost! 

The architecture there is beautiful, still retaining the elegance and opulence of the Victorian era, but also allowing for improvements to make the building more accessible. 

Speaking of accessibility, the Edinburgh Central Library takes disability access very seriously, not only renovating to have a lift, but also including audio programs for the blind and even special events and programs to help people with Dyslexia. I was truly impressed and believe many of the libraries back home can take a lesson or two from this library.

After the tour, we were treated to afternoon tea and biscuits and a PowerPoint presentation by a very charming man who runs the electronic/online programs at ECL. He joked at the beginning that after making sure we were tired from a long tour and giving us a snack, he was there to ensure we went to sleep, saying he regretted to inform us the PowerPoint was unfortunately very typical. I thought he was hilarious! 

ECL has a good many online programs for the community, helping people of all ages and of all abilities. There are way too many things going on there for me to list in this post, but you can read all about them on their website

During the Q&A, I asked Fiona something that had been on my mind throughout the entire visit. "We've been to many libraries throughout London and the UK," I said, "and they seem to be struggling thanks to budget cuts, with many of them having to close down. You seem to be prospering, though. How have you managed to avoid this pitfall?" She told me there were several reasons for this, the first of which is the amount of online activity, which both justifies their presence in the community and brings more people in to the library. She also pointed out that Edinburgh's city council makes sure there is funding for the libraries. Lastly, she said the attitude in Scotland is just different because "we really care about our libraries." While that could easily be mistaken for a dig at the English, I think she really meant what she was saying, and I have seen it first-hand here in the UK. For one, the man giving the PowerPoint said there are over 28 libraries in Edinburgh alone; when you take into account how small Edinburgh is for a major city (less than half a million people), the book to person ratio is pretty big. It has been interesting to witness these issues and compare them to the problems going on in libraries back in the U.S. 

All in all, it was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed every moment!

July 15: New College Library

I truly enjoyed the library visit today, which was the New College Library. This library serves the University 
of Edinburgh's Divinity School and has a vast collection of books and other materials pertaining to religion, especially Christianity. On the side here is a picture of a first edition of the King James Bible, for instance.

The librarians, as with pretty much every librarian we have encountered in the UK, were very kind and open to questions. They gave us a tour of the interiors of the library and discussed some of their policies. Originally, the building was a church, which is why the interior is so lovely and has such beautiful stained glass windows. Truly, this is one of the prettiest libraries we have visited. 

One element of the library that struck me was the pamphlet about student disability services at their library. I was intrigued because so many of the places we visited in London were not accessible at all to people with disabilities, but Scotland seems to be a bit different. During the Q&A, I asked the main librarian if Scotland had different building codes than London, and I told her I thought Scotland seemed more aware of the challenges disabled patrons face. She told me that, sadly, they have to contend with Historic Scotland when it comes to renovation, even if the renovation is to improve accessibility, and they have a very tight rope to walk. Saddest of all is the fact that students in wheelchairs cannot enter the building because of the absence of wheelchair ramps. She said students in wheelchairs do, however, have the option of employing a helper who will come to the library on their behalf and check out any materials they need. She said, though, that often times when a student in a wheelchair is accepted to their school, they do have to talk to the student about the extra challenges he or she will face and often advise him or her to find another school. I was really shocked hearing this, knowing anything even close to that would warrant a lawsuit in the United States. This goes to show you there are cultural differences. That being said, I felt the librarians at New College were trying their very best to make the library as accessible as possible to disabled students while trying not to violate any building codes or historic preservation regulations. You can read about New College Library's efforts to make the space as accessible as possible on their website. In spite of what the librarian told me, though, this library is still far more accessible than any library I saw in London. 

There was a vast amount of books and sources at the New College Library, and I found myself marveling many of them, special collections or otherwise. In enjoyed the tours we had of the archives and shelves upon shelves of books. The reading space is comfortable, and the information available tremendous. Overall, I enjoyed this library, although I was disturbed by the information about disabled students.

July 11: Kew Gardens and the Andrew Wiltshire Lecture

The last day of the week was our trip to Kew Gardens and Royal Botanic Garden Archive, and you read about Kew on their website. We first met one of the head librarians, Fiona, who was very kind and knowledgeable. She showed us a great deal of selected texts/materials from Kew's library and archive, and she took us around the archive itself. I found the library and archive accessible and welcoming, and I appreciated the amount of natural light. Their reading area is both welcoming and practical.

She also showed us some Beatrix Potter material, and we learned a great deal about her. Most people only associate Beatrix with her sweet little Peter Rabbit stories, but she was actually much more interesting. One of her main interests was botany, and she began coming to Kew, before writing the Peter Rabbit stories, to research mushrooms and fungi in general. She had a theory about the way fungi reproduce, that the fungi release tiny spores that germinate into new plants. Beatrix came to this conclusion after researching heavily at Kew. Fiona showed us the sign-in sheets she used, calling herself "Beatrix Potter" at first and then signing as "H.B. Potter" later, which was probably an attempt at gender neutrality. Her theory, however, ran counter to what was commonly accepted. To make a long story short, Beatrix tried desperately to get scientists, all of whom were male, to accept her theory. They all refused to help her or take her seriously, and one man shut down her research. Sadly, Beatrix was right! As Fiona said, if she had been taken seriously, there is no telling what she could have done or what we have remembered her for.

Later that day, we were treated to a lecture from Andrew Wiltshire, a true English gentleman if there ever was one. He was witty and engaging, and his story was fascinating, adding another element to Beatrix Potter's persona.

Interestingly, Mr. Wiltshire is related to the man who decoded Beatrix Potter's diary. Apparently, Beatrix kept a diary, but it was completely written in a code she made up. The family has had the diary for a long time, but no one knew what it was; it looked like gibberish. Here is a page from the diary I found online:


As you can see, it is indecipherable...or so it would seem. Mr. Wiltshire's relative received permission to view the diary, as Beatrix had been an interest of his. It took him several years, but one day, when he was about to give up, he found one name she forgot to decode! Four years later, he had deciphered Beatrix Potter's diary! Now, the diary is available to purchase. Truly, a remarkable story! Frankly, I have not read Potter since I was a child and never realized her story was so interesting, nor that she was so complex a woman. As Fiona pointed out, the drawings in Peter Rabbit are very exact, which underscores Beatrix’s knowledge of botany.

Truly, the visit to Kew was one I will treasure and always remember fondly!

July 10: The Wiener Library

Late in the afternoon, we went to Wiener Library, which was actually one of my favorite places we have visited. Founded in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, a German Jew and WWI veteran who was horrified by the explosion of anti-Semitism in his country after the Great War, the Wiener Library is one of the largest collections of Holocaust material in the world, rivaling the Holocaust museums in D.C. and Israel. You can read more about the library's history on their website
The library is in a converted house, which gives it an open, welcoming atmosphere. Their collection is vast, and I pondered changing my paper topic just to have an excuse to return. The walls are all painted white, and they mostly rely on natural light to fill the building. The artificial light they do have is soft, unlike harsher neon lights that are so common these days, which makes the reading atmosphere that much more pleasant.

The library is divided into two main areas: the reading room, which has a huge collection of books related to the Holocaust and Judaism, and the archives below. Their archives are especially well organized and contain artifacts that will surpass any expectations you have. For instance, Tobey, the librarian who gave us the tour (great guy!), showed us some children’s books used as Nazi propaganda. The first one was a coloring book depicting the Third Reich as an honorable, patriotic organization. I asked Tobey if there were any fiercely anti-Semitic books for children, and he said absolutely, then kindly brought one out for us. The picture I took is fuzzy, unfortunately, but the book was as creepy as can be. It was a story about good little Nazi children chasing out the nasty Jews, and the Jews were drawn as the most grotesque caricatures, having enormous noses and gross skin. The Jews are illustrated as crying while they leave the Aryans, and the Aryans are throwing rocks at them—because that is such a lovely thing for children to do. We were all equally fascinated and disturbed by the books. To be honest, I could have stayed there all day.

In honor of the Great War’s centennial, the Weiner Library had a display about Jewish soldiers in WWI, along with many artifacts from the war. Tobey told us, showing the library’s materials as evidence, that prior to and during WWI, being Jewish and being German were intertwined; after the war, however, things obviously changed. He had diary entries from Jewish heroes from the war who were distraught over having to leave Germany, the country for which they had served and loved so much. I was saddened and disturbed looking at that collection.

All in all, this was a fantastic library and one to which I will definitely return!

July 9: Research at the Globe

Today, I did some personal research for my Shakespeare paper at the best possible location in London: the Globe Library!

My paper will deal with the sources Shakespeare most likely used for his history plays and the means by which he obtained them. While searching for places to research, I decided to check out the Globe and see if they had any sources, only to discover gleefully they have their own library and research center.

To access the Globe Library, one has to request permission and prove he or she is a bona fide researcher, which is very much in keeping with the other research libraries we visited. A few days before the visit, I emailed the librarians there and explained my project. The Globe is very, very particular about when scholars can come in, only opening their doors on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and in two short shifts: 10 am – 1 pm and 2 – 5pm. I set off for the Globe at 2:00 (leaving the Caird library), had an adventure on the Tube, and then got to the library at 3:00, giving me two hours to research.

The Globe Library is small, but they have a bunch of material to work with. Finding their location, however, is quite difficult. I first entered the Globe Theatre and was told to “go around to the side.” I did as I was told, only to have these same instructions at least three more times. When I finally found the correct door, I had to wait for the librarian to take me to the library itself. She told me to remain quiet as we walked to the library; a production was taking place. The library is located past a long, winding office with no cubicles, just rows and rows of desks smothered in stacks of books and papers. Indeed, it was difficult to navigate through this field of paper. To be honest, the complete disarray in which I found the library’s surrounding offices made me nervous.

The library is located in a small, confined room that also feels very messy. As we passed stacks of cardboard boxes full of papers, much of which was scattered on the floor, the librarian told me they have a good bit of stuff there.

Despite appearances, the visit was rewarding. I found some good books there, including a dissertation from 1904 about my topic, and got a good bit of work done. Many of the books are hard to find elsewhere, so I am very grateful to have researched at the Globe. I also learned a lot, including the fact that Shakespeare would have learned to read with a hornbook, which was a wooden paddle upon which his teacher would have attached a sheet of paper with his ABC’s, vowels, a poem or two, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Although off to a rocky start, the visit was productive, and I found sources that will definitely help me in my coming research.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

July 8th: Barbican Library

Tuesday morning we went to the Barbican Lending and Music libraries, both of which were wonderful. We 
were split into two groups, and mine was led by Jonathan. He was hands-down the coolest librarian I have ever met! His enthusiasm was palpable, and he was on fire with the jokes. I have always appreciated subtle wit, and Jonathan had that in spades. He showed all of us how to be a librarian, and you can really tell he loves his job. First, he led us to the children’s library, which was warm and welcoming, and I’m certain children enjoy going there. (Photo obtained from 

After that, Jonathan gave us a tour of the adult section of the library and explained how the library worked there. Due to Barbican’s being a building with many purposes, there is a great deal of noise coming from below. Personally, I found this endearing because it gave the library some character; it felt like a community center, and a welcoming one at that. The selection of books in the adult part of the library was strong, and I just had to check out their Stephen King selection, which was substantial. Much like my public library back home, they have a self-service check out area that scans the books as one puts them on the screen. One difference, though, is Barbican has stamps for the patrons to use in their books. Jonathan pointed out that people change the date—often making it incorrect! I chuckled thinking about how Americans must mess up the date by putting the month first!

After the tour of the adult books section, Jonathan took us to the staff room where he and the other staff had cookies (or “biscuits”) and lemonade ready for us. He had us all sit on the couches and told us stories about the library and some interesting patrons who have walked through the doors. The stories probably aren’t appropriate to be shared online, so I’ll suffice it to say they were amusing!

While we were snacking, the woman who runs the entire library came in, and we all ended up having a very serious—and depressing—discussion about the lack of funding and subsequent disappearance of libraries in the UK. The United States has the same problem, but Jonathan said he thought the difference was the ALA (American Library Association) has done a better job really fighting for libraries, whereas the British equivalent (CILIP) does not fight for libraries at all. The director said sadly that the library may have to close if funding continues to dissipate, which almost made me cry. I thought the Barbican was a lovely place and a real asset to London; should they lose that library, an integral part of the community’s information services and cultural preservation will be lost—a detrimental blow to London, indeed.

After the grim subject matter, Jonathan changed the subject and then took us to the music library. We got to meet the music librarian and see their collection, which is vast. Indeed, the Barbican Music Library is one of the biggest music collections internationally. They have movies and books related to music, concert DVDs, CDs, sheet music—all kinds of stuff. Indeed, the visit to the Barbican libraries was fun, and it truly seemed like a wonderful atmosphere in which to work and read. I had a wonderful time.

July 3: British Library

Today, we toured the British Library, one of the largest libraries in the entire world. Holding over 200 million pieces, the British Library's collection when lined up covers over 300 miles; you can check out their catalog here. The main building, which is what we visited, holds forty percent of the total collection, with
A Shot of the Entryway!
the remaining sixty percent at satellite centers throughout London and the UK. The bulk of the main building is underground with eight stories going under. Curiously, this construction does pose two main problems: 1) there is a great deal of underground pressure from the Tube and 2) there are many Bubonic plague pits underground. Indeed, there have been incidents in which construction workers found plague pits and had to evacuate. The librarian giving the tour told a rather disturbing story: once, they accidentally discovered poison gas underground and had to evacuate so they could clear it out!

While the library does have a tremendous amount of material available, it is not for everyone. The British Library specifically serves people who are researching—professors, students, writers, etc.—and are in need of materials not readily available in public libraries. To access the collections, you need a library card and must be 18 or older to apply for one. The librarian assured us there were practical reasons for this age limit. First, because the library holds the largest collections in the world, it also has the largest collection of pornographic material in the world. Much like the Library of Congress, the British Library must have copies of everything that is printed in the UK, including newspapers, stamps, and, yes, porn. Second, the library prosecutes anyone who steals or damages materials. I am ambivalent about these restrictions, though; on the one hand, I understand the library’s caution in allowing anyone to view their tremendous collections, but on the other, I’m not sure I agree to the levels of exclusivity they achieve through this caution. One cannot even talk to a reference librarian—indeed, one cannot even ask a research question—if one does not already know what books one wants to use. I found this procedure more practical in theory than in practice. If one is just beginning her research, how will she know what pieces to access if she is not allowed to talk to a librarian?

Speaking of which, we were allowed into a secret observatory over one of the reading rooms (each collection—humanities, maps, etc.—has its own reading room) in which librarians can watch people using the manuscripts. The librarian pointed the cameras out to us—the visible ones, that is. She told us there are cameras in the desks to watch patrons. Additionally, when one requests a manuscript, the librarians weigh it before and after one uses it; if there is any difference, they begin searching. Once again, I was ambivalent about these measures: while I found them profoundly invasive, I did understand their purpose. These documents are not like, say, a Stephen King novel or an Encyclopedia Britannica at your public library; they are historic and irreplaceable. To be honest, I have not entire worked out my feelings about the degree of surveillance there.

Overall, I felt privileged to see the inner-workings of one of the greatest libraries in the world and would happily research there…that is, if I met their qualifications.

July 2: Stowe School

Today we visited Stowe School, an extravagant boarding school in the English countryside, and I must say I am ambivalent about it at best. The building is massive and massively ornate: built in the 1730s, transformed into a palace in 1822, sold as an estate in 1921, and turned into a boy’s boarding school soon after, Stowe
is the embodiment of the long-lasting and insidious English class system. The rooms here are opulent to the point of gaudiness. The library, which is extremely small, has hundreds of rosettes on the ceiling, all of which are made of 23.5 karat gold. We were told the ceiling, which was remade several years ago, cost 86,000 pounds, 23,000 of which went to the rosettes alone. There are ornate sculptures and wall-length paintings in every room, and the rooms themselves are massive. I would estimate my own home could fit into the cafeteria twice.

Expensive Rosettes
The house itself is on a large estate, as you can see. There are miles and miles of open land, much of which was covered in grazing sheep. I do not mean to imply the estate was “bad,” necessarily; the estate is beautiful. But like a strong perfume, Stowe is too beautiful, overpoweringly beautiful, and can cause physical symptoms of revulsion when ingested too deeply. Indeed, I felt enthralled by the beauty of Stowe, but simultaneously sickened. I could not help thinking about the lower classes and exploitation upon which this school was built. To attend this school, one must pay 33,000 pounds a year—roughly $60,000—which is more than many people pay each year for college and even exceeds many people’s salaries. The students here are in the highest crust of the aristocracy, and I’m sure many of them were born into histories of wealth.

With the Fourth of July approaching and after learning more British history, I feel proud to be an American. We have a class system, too, and it’s in need of reform; however, we do not have a socially engrained legacy of titles and monarchy. Indeed, I am grateful to have had this trip on the eve of the Fourth because it has really impressed upon me the meaning of the Revolution. In spite of all our problems, America does have a different kind of freedom from the British. In creating our own country, we not only did away with the medieval traditions of earls, dukes, and villages living to serve them, but we also created a new kind of individualism, one built on identity and above all freedom.

Stowe School is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life, but its legacy ensures only an infinitesimal percentage of the UK will ever partake of its guarded beauty. 

July 1: Stratford-upon-Avon

Today’s trip was a special one for me, especially as a former English major: Stratford-upon-Avon, a beautiful, magical town that produced truly one of the most significant writers who ever lived, William Shakespeare.

The sights and indeed the smells in Stratford were glorious yet so simple: the town needed no extra adornment, no castles or material extravagances; the pervasive scent of roses and the plain yet lovely architecture were adornment enough. The town is small, yet the streets are populated with a wide array of shops and vendors and even musicians, all of which contribute to Stratford’s charm.

As if such a setting were not enough, the town itself glows with history; for me, walking the streets and knowing Shakespeare lived and walked here, too, was most thrilling. Walking through Stratford on a clear summer day left little wonder as to where Shakespeare derived his inspiration.

The first site I visited was Shakespeare’s birthplace, which has been restored over the years, leaving the 
floor as the only truly “authentic” portion of the house where Shakespeare was born and raised. The house charges a steep fee to visit, so I chose instead to stand outside the home taking pictures, drinking in the scenery and importance of this location. Looking on this modest house and knowing it sheltered Shakespeare was…frankly, there are no words with sufficient oomph to articulate my feelings.

I had a similar feeling of bewildered awe while taking the Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour with a new friend named Sarah. The bus tour ventured through twelve locations pertinent to Shakespeare’s life, including his birthplace, church, what is now the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and Anne Hathaway’s cottage (among other places). I took a few hundred 
pictures that day and far too many to display here. While on this tour and later visiting Shakespeare’s church and seeing his grave, I continuously felt awestruck and reverential. Shakespeare's church houses the baptismal font used at his christening, his birth and death notices, and both his and Anne Hathaway’s graves. It is truly remarkable to see the humble beginnings from which Shakespeare ascended, especially with his significance held in perspective.

Another place we visited that was not of historical significance but certainly one of importance was Stratford-upon-Avon’s public library. A group of us walked down a lovely street to get there, and the walk was majestic. The exterior of the library tried to maintain a Tudor-esque architectural style, which was a visually pleasing touch. From the outside, it is just as quaint as the rest of the town. When we went inside, however, I was disappointed to see how few books were in the library. As you can see their library is rather barren.

These pictures you see are the only books I saw. Bear in mind this is the library in SHAKESPEARE'S hometown. I was aghast and could not help wondering what Shakespeare would think of this library. Fortunately, this venture did give me an idea for my research paper. The library's setting itself was lovely, though, and it did seem to be a charming place to study. That being said, I did feel confused by the lack of books there. Anyway, this was my only complaint about Stratford. 

One of my favorite events of the day, however, was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry IV, Part I, which you can read about here. Admittedly, 1 Henry IV (prior to that evening) was not my favorite Shakespeare play; I actually did not care for it when I read it in college. This production, however, has changed my mind. Everything about it - the acting, the sets, the costumes, the music - was fantastic! I was very impressed with the production value. The opening itself absorbed the audience (okay, me) into the story immediately. The lights went out, leaving the entire theater completely dark. Then, some gravid choral music accompanied by heavy bass began, building the tension. The only light for the first few minutes was candles as what appeared to be monks slowly entered the stage. As more light appeared, one could make out King Henry lying prostrate on the floor. What we were witnessing was Henry's ordination, and the Royal Shakespeare Company made it enthralling to watch. I mention this scene because it really drew me in to the play. The rest of the production maintained the same level of excellence: the drama was sad, the comedy hilarious, and the fight scenes well-choreographed. Indeed, the final battles, full of sword fighting, were almost like a dance; I was impressed no one lost a limb!

The ride home was long, and by the time we returned to King's College, it was about 1:30 in the morning. I was exhausted, but so happy. As you can tell from this post, the visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was beyond my favorite and was full of memories I will treasure for the rest of my life. While maybe not on this trip, eventually I do want to return to Stratford for an extended period of time. So far, it is still my favorite part of the UK. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

July 7: LAARC

Today was an interesting visit in that the class went the London Archaeological Archive and Research Center (LAARC) to view their collections and get a glimpse of how archaeologists keep their archives. 

LAARC has a fascinating collection—I believe it’s one of the biggest in the world mostly because whenever something is built in London (and there is construction there all the time), LAARC is required to sift through the grounds and see if there is anything historic there. If they find something, they are usually given about two weeks to go through everything and see what they can find. As a result, the collection is vast, containing items all the way back from the Roman occupation. You can view their online catalog here to see what other exciting items they have.

Dan was the archaeologist who took my group (they split us in half again) around the collections, and we got to see some great things. The best was the back room that had the glass collection. There were old dishes from ancient times, porcelain figurines from the 18th century—all kinds of things. I enjoyed looking at all of it. (Photo obtained from

Dan showed us one of his favorite items, which was a shoe found at the Globe theater grounds. He says no one can prove it, but Shakespeare may have worn the boot considering he performed in his own plays. The shoe itself was a long boot made of leather that is now starting to rot. Nevertheless, it is a great addition to their collection. Another interesting Shakespeare tidbit: Dan said that at every site related to Shakespeare’s theaters, they have found these huge, rock-like balls. The theory is that they were used as props in the plays or perhaps even as sound effects—people may have rolled them across the stage to sound like thunder. Can you imagine a man rolling a ball down a stage as King Lear fights the storm? 

Like all libraries and “information centers” in the UK, LAARC suffers from funding issues. Visiting all of these places has been educational and also very sad. I am not sure why there is such a growing apathy towards to libraries both in the UK and the US, but it is a startling trend, especially when one considers the future implications of a shrinking budget for centers like LAARC. I kept thinking about the tremendous amount of research these archaeologists have contributed and the breadth of records available—not to mention the wealth of knowledge LAARC has discovered—and the possibility of such a center either having too little a budget with which to work or it disappearing altogether. I doubt that will occur anytime soon, but it is a reality if the public allows this defunding to continue.

All in all, however, I had a good time that day at LAARC!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

June 30: Oxford!

Today was especially exciting considering we went to Oxford University to tour their oldest library, the Bodleian. Oxford actually has a great many libraries: each college within the university has its own library; however, the Bodleian is the oldest and boasts the most historic collections. 
Chilling at Oxford

Upon arriving in Oxford, I got many shots of the library and the town itself. We were not allowed to take pictures in the book area of the library, but we were allowed to shoot the exterior and many of the rooms on the first floor. Once we were inside, I was blown away by the ornate detail in the architecture, particularly the ceilings, which was so intricate. Sitting in the library, one can just feel the history there.

Defense time!
Essentially, the room you are looking at was erected in the late 12th century. Oxford was initially created to be a Catholic theology school, producing priests. Most of the historic books there are in Latin because of this. The room has a long and fascinating history, which far surpasses the scope or space of this blog, but the main point is this room was used for "dissertation defenses," if you will. The two rows of seats you see near the altar were where onlookers would sit. There were two podiums on either side, which is where the professors would stand as they quizzed you. The one doing the defending would stand in the middle. Talk about stress! The room was designed to resemble chapels as a supplement to the main church on campus. 

Our tour guide was the most charming and hilarious person I've met so far! He was on fire with the jokes, but in a reserved, English way. At one point, he explained why 1209 was considered the founding date of Oxford: the seeds of the reformation had been planted, and many of the Oxford students did not want to deal with the religious and power implications. The tour guide said there was a difference of opinion on the extent to which religious doctrine should determine education. Therefore, a group of students broke with Oxford and formed what the guide called "that other place"--i.e., Cambridge. He said the name once, and then made many subsequent jokes about how he had accidentally said the “forbidden name.” Ha!

I was fascinated with the library, but was unsure as to who uses it and how. It felt more like something that was preserved for historic reasons, which is certainly useful, than a library for academic use. Still, the collection of materials there is tremendous and well worth savoring, especially for those interested in library studies.

We were all sad when the tour ended, but that meant lunch, much to our empty stomachs' relief. For the main meal of the day, two friends and I went to the Eagle and Child, the pub that was a favorite meeting place of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis! This site provides information about Tolkien-related locations in Oxford, including the Eagle and the Child.

All in all, the Oxford trip was especially rewarding!