Saturday, May 29:  Medieval and Elizabethean Theatre

Robert took his mathematics exam first thing, so we now have all of the end-of-the-year assignments ready to go. They’ve still got workbooks and other assignments left, so school’s not out yet. About 11 AM we set out for a short drive to Warwick Castle, a genuine enough castle, still inhabited by the Earl of Warwick, but now managed by Tussaud’s (of Wax Museum fame in London). Directed efficiently to the overflow “field parking” which promised a 20-minute walk to the castle was hardly an auspicious start.

However, once paid-up and inside, I found it a reasonable enough outing. We alternated between visiting exhibits and watching performances (theatre, really). The castle, with one exception, is furnished about the reference date of 1471. We saw the great hall (with HUGE sets of antlers on the walls, and plenty of standing armour) and adjacent drawing rooms, all of which still get used on occasion (but the carpets are rolled up along the borders where us peasants were allowed to walk). The boys were unimpressed by the mildly-secretive door between the dining room and kitchen, having recently had several meals served to them by the exact same device. A small torture museum corrected our omission in San Gimigiano and I found the working waterwheel and its associated gears, belts and dynamos especially interesting. One exhibit featured a recreation of an 1898 Victorian weekend party through two floors of the castle, with recreated rooms, populated with wax figures of likes of the Duke of Marlbourough, a young Winston Churchill, the Prince of Wales and others visiting for a weekend. That corrected our omission of the Wax Museum in London.

The performances included a chat with the Earl and Countess (actors, portraying the 1471 versions) and a dress-up of a 12-year-old volunteer in full armor followed by a rehearsed sword fight between two knights over the honor of the boy’s mother. But the highlight was a jousting tourney in the island in the River Avon. In reality, the White Knight, Black Knight, Lady Guinevere and three other knights and various squires were the Devil’s Horsemen, a stunt team with a long list of movie credits. The jousting practice at targets was interesting to watch, while the actual jousting was a bit too staged to be of much interest. And the subsequent sword battles were too much. However, a competition between one female and one male rider was very well-done. Each ran their horse the length of the field, while hanging off the side in one stirrup upside-down, or rotating about the saddle like a gymnast on a pommel-horse.

Of course, this was not enough excitement for one day. A short drive brought us to Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. One look at the crowds on the streets convinced me to park the car at my first opportunity. First stop was Holy Trinity Church, where a 2 “donation” allowed us to look at his grave, with the entertaining epitath, (loosely translated)

Good friend, for Jesus’ sake, forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here
Blessed be the man who spares these stones,
And cursed be he who moves my bones.

Down the street, we availed of the opportunity to finally visit one of the brass rubbing shops. We passed on the 70 full size figures and the boys did a small dragon and a horse. Dinner was at a mediocre fish-and-chips joint with no air circulation and an extra charge for packets of ketchup. I’ve now reached the point where any meal without a side of potatoes looks appealing.

The real reason for our stop in Stratford was that Pat had secured us tickets for a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company. All of the Shakespeare plays currently in production were tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet), so we opted for a comedy that is a translation of a Spanish work, performed in the Swan Theatre. The tale, A Dog in a Manger, involved a noble lady, in love with her secretary, but unable to reconcile this with the fact that he was a commoner. To make a long story short, she torments him endlessly by sending mixed signals, while the secretary’s mischievous match-making butler causes no end of confusion. In the end, every boy gets a girl (though maybe not the right one). While a comedy, it was still too much for the boys, though David seemed to get some enjoyment and cultural education from it.

The show let out about 10:30 PM, and we prolonged the evening by driving the narrow dark lanes of the Cotswolds in the wrong direction for twelve miles before discovering the error.