Two more weeks of study have come and gone. From studying the inner workings of the E.U. and Shakespearean works, to a massive heat wave in the midst of a new prime minister being elected to the U.K. Parliament, the time since my last blog post has been all but uneventful. To begin with, class has brought in several notable speakers. Valentin Gerlier, currently a PhD candidate for the University of Cambridge and an avid lover of Shakespeare, lectured my class on The Winter’s Tale. Although The Winter’s Tale is my least favorite of the plays I have read for ShakesLaw, Valentin gave a riveting lecture on the play and dived into the symbolism contained throughout the story. Valentin also commented on the dual nature of the play, observing that the first half of it is a tragedy, while the last half is more of a comedy. This allows for the cycle of death and rebirth to flow throughout the story. Brian Rose-Smith, another lecturer for ShakesLaw, is a retired solicitor and gave a lecture on the English history which serves as a backdrop to Shakespeare’s Richard III. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s works, this play was based on a real person. Richard III has frequently been compared to that of a cruel, conniving tyrant, and there is a great deal of mystery surrounding his rise to power. Because of this, he made for a perfect character of a Shakespearean tragedy. Although he is overexaggerated in Richard III, he has actually been said to be responsible for ordering the deaths of young Edward, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother Richard, the Duke of York. These two princes conveniently disappeared after Richard’s ascension to the role of Lord Protector in 1483. The two princes would not be found until 1674, when workers discovered their skeletons under a staircase of the Tower of London. Lastly, Loreta Raulinaityte lectured my E.U. class on the inner workings of the European Parliament and the relationship of the Baltic States with E.U. eastern partnerships. Loreta is currently the director of the Department of Communications of the Lithuanian Parliament, and also served six years in Brussels at the European Parliament. She had a great deal to say about the tension between the E.U. and Russia, her time as a member of the European Parliament, and the importance of Lithuania’s membership in the E.U.
By the weekend, I caught an early morning train to begin my adventure in the more rural communities of England. My first stop was Dover. This is a small coastal town serving as the home to Dover Castle and the famous White Cliffs of Dover. I actually arrived in Dover a lot sooner than I expected, and was able to spontaneously grab an English Breakfast at a local restaurant called “Chaplin’s.” This restaurant was very unique in that it was entirely dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, with the walls adorned with old photographs of the silent film star. Once I got my fill of breakfast, I made the “brief” trek to Dover Castle. Granted, I was able knock out this walk in ten minutes, but it was entirely uphill. Let me just say, my entire lower body was burning by the time I got there. I was, thankfully, able to catch my breath while purchasing my entrance ticket. Walking up to the castle entrance was actually surreal. The Great Tower, itself, is massive and impressive in light of the technology that was available when Henry II had it built in the 1180s. Surprisingly, the general architecture of the Great Tower was similar to the Tower of London. This observation made sense when I discovered Henry II was William the Conqueror’s great grandson. As compared to the Tower of London, exploring Dover Castle had less restrictions on where you could go. While I explored, I found narrow halls, dead ends with marvelous views, and even medieval tunnels that were right out of a horror film. In addition to exploring the inside of the castle, I also had the opportunity to stand on the roof of the Great Tower to look out over the English Channel. Since I arrived to Dover on a clear day, I was actually able to see France from across the Channel. In addition to exploring the castle, I also had a chance to walk through the WWII tunnels and learn about Operation Dynamo. Touring these tunnels was a haunting experience when thinking about the desperation that must have been felt while attempting to save as many soldiers as possible from the advancing, Nazi army.
After exploring Dover Castle, I made the trek to the White Cliffs of Dover. The Cliffs are significant in that they represented a beacon of hope during WWII, and are a natural marvel of nature itself. The Cliffs offer amazing, picturesque views that are difficult to match, but you have to work for it. I consider myself physically fit, but I was not prepared for the hiking needed to navigate the Cliffs. By the time I made it to the South Foreland Lighthouse, I had walked about five and a half miles. South Foreland Lighthouse was the first lighthouse—in the world—to use an electric light, and was also where the telegraph was first tested using Morse code. Since I went on a tour, I actually had the chance to push buttons on the switchboard to turn the light on. I also had the privilege of pushing the “big red button” to turn off the light. Although the lighthouse is no longer in use, it was fun to push a few buttons and pretend as if I was turning it on. The walk from the lighthouse to my hotel was long and laborious. By the time I finally arrived to my hotel, I had walked about twelve miles in one day. Even though I will never forget how much my feet ached that day, I will also never forget the views I earned on that walk. There is nothing like seeing the Cliffs of Dover, it is almost too difficult to describe. In addition to seeing the Cliffs, I even had the bonus of seeing some wild horses grazing along the winding paths.
Once I had explored Dover and indulged in a good night’s rest, I caught a train to Salisbury. This would be the day I would finally see Stonehenge. This peculiar formation has been in existence for about 5,000 years, and although historians have uncovered how the stones got there, historians have yet to discover why they were dragged hundreds of miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales to Amesbury. While walking to Stonehenge, I listened to an audio tour describing the various theories with why Stonehenge even exists. These theories were very interesting and alluded to the simple fact that we, as human beings, cannot know everything. Out of all the theories, I thoroughly enjoyed one in particular. A scholar had theorized that since Stonehenge was made of stone, it was to represent the eternity of the afterlife. This would be in opposition of the fact that humans, at the time, lived in temporary, wooden homes. Residing in wooden homes represented the idea that life is temporary. I felt partial to this theory because of the symbolism. It makes sense to draw this comparison, but there are also theories that Stonehenge was a place of healing as well as sacrifice. Whatever the theory, I found that Stonehenge paled in comparison to the White Cliffs of Dover. Regardless, I believe everyone should see Stonehenge at least once in their life.
Before returning for Cambridge, I made stop at Salisbury Cathedral. This cathedral was incredibly beautiful with its gothic, medieval architecture. I was fascinated with the stained-glass windows, the gothic arches, and the attention to detail. Aside from the church itself, the best part of Salisbury Cathedral was actually found in a document that could not be photographed. This document was an original copy of the Magna Carta. Today, only four original copies have survived. It actually took over fifty hours to hand write each copy that was made of this historic document. The copy I saw was in pristine condition, and it was such an honor to see a document that continues to influence political views on basic, fundamental, human rights. Now, let me say this, I did not plan to visit England based on a chronological timeline, but this ended up happening all on its own. To quickly recap my trip thus far, I first saw the Tower of London which was “built” by William the Conqueror. Then, fast forward to my visit to Dover Castle, which was “built” by his great grandson, Henry II. Two days after I saw Dover Castle, I laid eyes upon the very document Henry II’s son, the “Bad King John” was obligated to sign. Reflecting back on my travels, I could not have planned the trip better, and it is almost fulfilling to see something progress so chronologically.