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» Shakespeare’s Globe: Burgers with the Bard
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Shakespeare’s Globe: Burgers with the Bard

By • Jun 30th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

I recently had the opportunity to visit London for the first time.  My list of must-visit places filled up quickly: the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Harrod’s.  But as an English major and former theatre rat, I knew I’d also require a pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s Globe.

Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, where most of William Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed around the turn of the 17th century.  Opened in 1997, the new theatre is as faithful a reproduction as one could hope for: a circular building constructed entirely of English oak using mortise-and-tenon carpentry (no steel girders), with the only thatched roof permitted within the city of London since the city’s Great Fire of 1666.  (The original Globe itself burned to the ground in 1613, after staged cannon fire during a performance of Henry VIII sparked a fast-spreading blaze on the thatched roof.)

But Shakespeare’s Globe isn’t a stagnant museum.  It’s a real working theatre, with one of the Bard’s works performed multiple times every day for much of the year. A simple thrust stage sits in an open-air pit, surrounded by three tiers of covered seating.  These benches would have been where wealthy patrons sat back in the day, with the common folk (the “groundlings”) looking up at the stage from the dirt floor.  There are no spotlights and no microphones during performances, so that the building may remain as true to the time period as possible.  In fact, the entire building is situated just 300 yards from the site of the original Globe, as placed by historical records.  So this is a holy shrine for English nerds and theatre geeks.  I happen to be both.

Luckily, the play on the schedule during my UK stay was Macbeth, which happens to be a close second to Hamlet as my all-time Shakespeare fave.  My wife and I snagged tickets to a sold-out afternoon performance and arrived early.  Apart from the requisite gift shop and visitors’ centre, we also found The Swan at the Globe.

I was eager for lunch before three hours of double, double toil and trouble (Act IV, Sc. i).  Macbeth is perhaps the bloodiest and darkest of Shakespeare’s works, reveling in themes like the supernatural, reckless ambition, extreme paranoia, psychological terror, and pure bloodlust, so eating pre-show seemed like a good idea.  (The work is so associated with mysterious evil, in fact, that die-hard theatre dorks [like me] consider it bad luck to even utter the name of the play within sight of a stage, instead referring to it as “The Scottish Play.”)

Inside the Swan, we opened up our menus, where I found a pleasant surprise.

Is this a burger which I see before me? (Act II, Sc. i… with apologies)  One of the day’s specials was a Shropshire Beef burger, to be served with salad and chips!  If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir (Act I, Sc. iii).

The presentation was attractive enough.  A nicely-shaped burger on a grilled bun, although proportionately, the burger was way too small.  A bed of caramelized onions was the only topping,” despite its under-the-beef placement, along with a small pile of halved cherry tomatoes and red onions tossed in some herbs and vinegar-based dressing, which was apparently my “salad.”  The fries chips were extra-thick-cut and came in a cutesy little pail.  Not a big-time burger feast, to be sure, but it seemed fitting of a midday nosh at the theatre.

Well, to borrow a line from Hamlet, it’s obvious that “the play’s the thing” at Shakespeare’s Globe, because I was underwhelmed with the Swan’s burger.  As a rule, the Brits seem to cook their beef more thoroughly than we do stateside, so a “juicy” burg is hard to come by across the pond.  This was medium, maybe more like medium-well, and sorely needed some cheese to combat what we American carnivores would classify as “dryness.”  And it’s a good thing that Will had a way with words, because he wouldn’t have had much of a future as a baker.  The Bard, as it turns out, has trouble with buns.  Mine was a sorry sight (Act II, Sc. ii), cracking and splitting with each bite, threatening to fall apart in my hands.

But let’s be honest, I didn’t fly halfway ’round the world to Shakespeare’s Globe for the hamburger.  I came for a whole lot of something wicked this way comes (Act IV, Sc. i), a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a true masterpiece performed the way it originally was over 400 years ago.

I go, and it is done; the bell invites me (Act II, Sc. i).  I stood on the floor (I’m a groundling, of course) and watched Elliot Cowan and Laura Rogers kill (literally) as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  (Actors’ photo by Ellie Kurttz)

As a burger, it was but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing (Act V, Sc. v).

But all in all, it was an amazing experience that I will treasure to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow (Act V, Sc. v).

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