Saturday, July 7, 2012

Kensington Palace/Taming of the Shrew

I'd like to say while visiting Kensington Palace we came across the famous royal couple, Will and Kate, but, unfortunately, they're in Wales.  Kensington Palace is the official residence of Will and Kate when they come to London, but they have a small farmhouse in Wales where they live most of the time.  Unofficially, Prince Harry uses the palace too.  Will and Kate announced in November that they're officially moving from Kensington Palace to a four story, twenty room apartment probably next year at some point.  Even so, Kensington Palace is absolutely gorgeous.

Now, I'm going to give you a brief history of Kensington Palace.  The Palace was the official residence of Princess Diana from 1981 to her death in 1997, Princess Margaret (younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II) from 1960 to her death in 2002 and Princess Alice (Queen Elizabeth II's aunt) from 1994 to her death in 2004.  The palace was originally built in the 17th century for the Early of Nottingham, but it was later acquired from his heir in 1689 for the King who wanted to be close to London but away from the smokey air since he suffered from asthma.  From then on, Kensington became a favorite place for royal monarchs since it was close to the city but not too close.  Queen Mary II and her husband, William both died there in 1694 and 1702 respectively.  The last reigning monarch to use Kensington Palace was King George II (r. 1727-1760).  Ever since, it has been used for "minor" royals as a place to live.  Queen Victoria was there when she found out she was now Queen of England in 1837.  Newlyweds Princess Diana and Prince Charles moved in to the palace in 1981, and Diana remained there after the divorce until her death.  Both Harry and William were raised there and went to school as young boys right down the road at Notting Hill.

Alright, there's your brief history of Kensington Palace, so now it's time for me to tell you a little bit about what I saw while there.  I'll try to keep it brief, none of those insanely long Harry Potter related posts this time, promise.

Now, like I said a few times before, Princess Diana lived at Kensington Palace for the last fifteen or so years of her life.  There was a nice little exhibit with a few of Diana's more iconic dresses.  I picked my favorite of the four, which is the one you see above.  Diana wore this to an official visit to Thailand.

Here is a photo of Diana wearing the dress so you get an idea of what it looks like on her.  I think it could almost pass as a prom dress, but in a very sort of classy way.

Now, the main point of Kensington Palace is it's a place for royals to live.  During the visit, you get to see the King's Apartments and the Queen's Apartments.  Personally, I thought the King's Apartments were far more impressive.

In the King's Apartments you had the chance to see the Presence Chamber.  This is where the King would sit and listen to general people make requests.  Honestly, it sounds like an incredibly boring job.  I mean, this guy is helping run the country, and he has to sit there and listen to courtiers complain about menial little squabbles that mean nothing to him.  Oh yeah, this is a great way for the King of England to spend his time!  It was still really cool to see though.

What else was impressive was that we got to see some of the King's robes.  I'm not sure which king actually wore these, but it's still really cool.  The details are amazing, and it's hard to see, but he has a sword and everything.  There's also a huge train, and the train is so heavy it took six boys to carry it!

The King's Gallery.  This impressive room was where courtiers would gather to spend time together and such.  This room is actually a little creepy because they have these hidden speakers built into the walls, and they play these whispered conversations to give you a sense as to what it was like when court was there and everyone was gossiping.  As you walked, you'd hear little snippets of conversation here and there.  Even though you knew it was a recording, you couldn't help but feel self-conscious and like the "conversations" going on around you were really about you.

Now, Kensington Palace had a lot of stuff on Queen Victoria.  Like I said before, this palace was where Victoria found out she was now Queen of England.  They had all sorts of dresses, personal objects, etc from Victoria and her family, including some of her children's play clothes and toys, which was pretty cool to see.  What I thought was the coolest was they had sketches Victoria drew as a young girl and even a teenager.  She was a pretty good artist, and it just reminded me that while she was the longest reigning monarch in English history, she was also once a little girl who liked to play and just be a kid.

There were also two key dresses in Victoria's life.  The first one, pictured above, is her wedding dress.  Victoria married Prince Albert on February 10, 1840.  Surprisingly, it was a marriage where the royal couple actually had mutual feelings of compassion for each other (still fairly rare at the time).  According to her diary, Victoria was absolutely head over heels in love with Albert at the time of their marriage, a feeling that continued until Albert's death.  Albert became Victoria's chief confidante and the most influential person in her life.  Albert felt the same way about Victoria.  In 1840, a few months into their marriage, Edward Oxford tried to assassinate Victoria, and Albert threw himself in the path of the bullet.  He was hit, but he survived.  Oxford was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Unfortunately, Victoria and Albert did not have an incredibly long marriage.  On December 9, 1861, Albert was diagnosed with typhoid fever after being sick in general for about two years and dealing with the stress of running the nation while Victoria dealt with several deaths in the family.  He died five days later on December 14 in the Blue Room of Windsor Castle.  The cause of death was ruled typhoid fever, but modern day scholars believe he may have had a chronic disorder such as Crohn's disease or cancer since he had been sick for the two years leading up to his death.  Victoria was absolutely beside herself with grief.  Above is the dress she wore to Albert's funeral.  Victoria wore only black for the rest of her life, over 40 years.  Rumor has it that she had a relationship with a gentleman named "Mr. Brown" starting in 1861, although there's no way to be certain.  He certainly was very close to Victoria, and she relied heavily on his advice, but there's no way to be certain how far that relationship went.

By 1901, Victoria's health was quickly deteriorating.  She suffered from Rheumatism, which left her basically crippled, and her eyesight was incredibly poor from cataracts.  By the middle of January she was "dazed and confused" about what was going on around her.  At 6:30 PM on January 22, 1901, Victoria died, holding the fan in the photo above.  She left strict instructions for her funeral.  She was buried wearing white, including her wedding veil.  In the coffin was one of Albert's dressing gowns and a plaster cast of his hand.  Conveniently hidden under a bouquet of flowers was a lock of Mr. Brown's hair, a picture of him and his mother's wedding ring, which he had given Victoria (I'll let you decide what their relationship was based on that information).  She is buried next to her beloved Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park.

Well, after going to Kensington Palace, I headed over to the Globe Theatre with the program I came with for our last event of the first session, seeing The Taming of the Shrew.  Now, this play is called one of Shakespeare's most controversial works, and when I read this play in 10th grade, I completely missed just about all of that (surprising given the teacher I had at the time).  Anyway, the play was wonderfully executed.  I completely forgot that the beginning starts with a drunk man climbing up on stage, and, needless to say, we all thought it was real until they announced that he was dead.  Just goes to show what an amazing actor the man was. 

The play is about Katherina, who is a loud, abrasive, shrewish woman who loves to torment her younger sister, Bianca.  Bianca is everything Katherina is not, and she therefore has many suitors.  Their father, Baptista, refuses to even consider a suitor for Bianca until Katherina is married.  A man named Petruchio shows up saying he'll marry Katherina, and he proceeds to torment her psychologically until she finally changes her personality completely and becomes a calm gentlewoman.  At the same time, Bianca is swept off her feet by a charming young noble who is posing as a school teacher to get closer to her.  Of course, there is chaos, and the show is absolutely hysterical.  The only way to appreciate a Shakespeare show is to see it live, reading it simply doesn't always do it justice, and this show just goes to prove that.  While I read the play over 5 years ago, I do remember the basic plot, but it somehow seems so much better on stage, especially at the Globe Theatre.

Anyway, the play, particularly Katherina's last monologue, talks about how a woman should submit to her husband, which seems incredibly dated in the 21st century.  At the same time, the entire play is made to be a farce to entertain the drunkard who crashes the show, so it could be that Shakespeare was actually ahead of his time and poking fun at the whole institution of marriage.  I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Instead of sitting, this time I stood as a "groundling," just like they did in Shakespeare's time.  For some reason, this didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.  Yeah, I was exhausted by the time I got back, but it was all worth it.  The cast members would go through the audience, so you were right there up close and personal, which was pretty cool.  There's one more show playing at the Globe while I'm here, and I think I'm going to get a groundling ticket to see it, so keep an eye out in about a two weeks to see what else I'm seeing at the Globe.

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