Shakespeare: The Complete Walk

To commemorate 400 years of Shakespeare’s brilliance, the Globe Theatre set up a 2.5-mile walk along the south bank of the Thames the weekend of April 23-24, 2016, showing one 10-minute film for each of his 37 plays. The films combined new scenes shot just for this walk (set in places the plays were set like Hamlet in Denmark and Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt), scenes from silent movie adaptations (on loan from the British Film Institute), and scenes from Globe productions over the years.

I had a wonderful time walking the route over the course of two days, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own. I mistimed my Sunday and got caught up in the mass of humanity that was cheering on the London Marathon across the river, so I just squeezed in all the plays that day and finished 15 minutes before the event ended and the screens went dark.

I certainly don’t know every play, and in fact upon talking it over with my friend Liz (who knows just about every single one and has seen most of them performed too), I realized that I know the tragedies and many of the comedies, but I only know the outlines of his histories and some of the problem plays. I suppose that just gives me more to explore.

I liked that the Globe filmed scenes where Shakespeare originally set them; I think this was particularly effective with Othello & Iago alone in a Cypriot fort, where Iago could pour his poison in Othello’s ear under the hot sun; Coriolanus driving around the streets of Rome at night, Taxi Driver-style; Juliet ending it all in the tomb named for her in Verona; Richard II handing over his crown in the austere Westminster Hall; Cordelia trying to bring Lear back from madness at the white cliffs of Dover; and Falstaff carousing and philosophizing in The George pub.

Here’s a sample of what I saw, in the order of the route as laid out by the Globe (you can see the route I followed here and the list of credits & play summaries here). I didn’t always get the famous lines on video, and my camera ran out of storage space before I could get video of each film so there are still photos for those plays. The only scene out of order is Hamlet–there’s a photo of that film in order, but the video is at the very end of my movie, because I think the brief lines there offer a nice coda. Enjoy!

The Boston Mapparium: Walking into the Center of the Earth

“You get to walk into the middle of the world! You can be inside a map! This is basically all I’ve ever wanted out of life,” I said with only slight exaggeration. Luckily, my friend Mike agreed that a three-story glass globe sounded like a good tourist destination, so I put the Mapparium on the itinerary for when I visited him in Boston over Labor Day weekend in 2010.

outside the Mapparium

tourist pose!

The Mapparium is housed in the Mary Baker Eddy Library, part of a collection of buildings that make up the Christian Science Plaza in Boston. They only allow visitors in small groups at scheduled times, so you buy a ticket and mill about til your appointment. The lobby is set up with large posters depicting the highlights of Mary Baker Eddy’s life and the early years of the religion, such as charity projects and the Christian Science Monitor. The posters don’t dwell on the specifics of the religion, such as the basic tenet that the material world doesn’t exist and we are all spiritual beings. Funny that a religion with such beliefs erected a permanent tribute to the physical earth.

Christian Science headquarters

Once your group is called, you gather around a tour guide, who does a little intro and then asks you to be super quiet when you enter the Mapparium. This is because the acoustics of the room are like those giant whisper dishes in science museums; you can stand at one end of the room and whisper something, and someone standing at the other end will hear it as if you whispered right in their ear. This means only one person talks at a time. The tour guide talks a bit about the construction of the Mapparium–the 608 panes of glass, the hand-painted maps–and then turns on a recorded message about what the maps mean.

Journey to the center of the earth

The Mapparium was finished in 1935 and has been refinished but not changed since then. This means that the map shows the political world as it was pre-World War II. Many countries that don’t exist anymore appear: the Soviet Union, the Belgian Congo, French Indochina. Many countries that now exist didn’t then: Israel, all the ‘stan countries. The recorded message man talks about the decision to keep the map as an historical document, rather than updating it when wars and politics redraw the borders.

And then the propaganda sets in. The recorded guide describes the story of modern history as one of humanitarian triumph and progress. I’m not against this idea on principle (although a healthy dash of “and things are messed up too” would help). But the Mapparium takes a pretty selective view of what that story arc looks like; the disembodied voice talks about how democracy saved the world, and the map lights up with democratic countries. Then we hear that some countries still need to join the democracy train, and the map lights up behind those benighted countries. Democratic countries: the United States, the UK, and… Iraq. Non-democratic countries: North Korea, China, and… France. Hmm.

France, the non-democracy

But the slightly silly presentation aside, it’s awesome to be inside the Mapparium. Rather than being in the center of the earth looking out, we’re looking at a globe turned inside-out. The colors are deep and the writing is a little like calligraphy. And it’s endlessly fascinating to look at the changeable borders from eighty years ago. Being literally surrounded by the huge, colorful world was just as lovely and strange as I’d hoped. If you’re in Boston, I recommend it!

First two images are mine. Image 3. Image 4.