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Post Stratford-upon-Avon Report; Rip van Winkle
Created by John Eipper on 08/09/19 3:57 AM

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Stratford-upon-Avon Report; Rip van Winkle (Patrick Mears, Germany, 08/09/19 3:57 am)

in response to your recent question, Connie and I spent three, mostly sunny, warm and enjoyable days in Stratford-upon-Avon, where we viewed performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company of the Bard's Measure for Measure and a Restoration revenge tragedy, Venice Preserved, authored by Thomas Otway. Both were outstanding productions, the first being staged in the large Royal Shakespeare Theatre built along the Avon and the second being performed in the more intimate surroundings of the Swan Theatre. We were both very impressed by the quality and depth of talent within the Company and the imaginative staging of both performances. As a bit of an aside, the "villain" of Measure for Measure, Angelo, was played by an actor whose mannerisms and whose speech in a decidedly Northern Ireland accent reminded me right away of the Reverend Ian Paisley, but perhaps that was just my imagination working overtime.

This afternoon, I experienced what might be categorized as another "WAIS Effect" moment, but I will leave this to John E and others here more familiar with WAIS lore to rule on that. This morning Connie and I returned to Birmingham, where we will stay until Sunday when we fly back to Germany. After arrival in Birmingham, Connie and I toured its Jewellery Quarter, making stops at the "Museum of the Jewellery Quarter" and the nearby Pen Museum. While walking along Newhall Hill, Connie directed my attention to a bronze plaque embedded in the sidewalk recording that the American author, Washington Irving, had written his famous short story, "Rip Van Winkle," while staying at the (now demolished) home of his brother-in-law, Henry van Wart. Irving's brother-in-law was an American born in Tarrytown, New York, and had been made a British citizen by special act of Parliament after moving to England. In 1818, when Irving wrote "Rip van Winkle," van Wart and family were then living in Birmingham. Van Wart is also remembered as the founder of the Birmingham Stock Exchange. Connie's photo of this plaque is attached to this post.

This coincidence immediately brought to mind an incident involving this short story during one of my German language classes in Heidelberg a few weeks before leaving on this trip. When our instructor mentioned the game of "nine-pins," I volunteered the observation that this game, which resembles bowling, functioned as a key element in "Rip van Winkle." This sport was being played in New York's Catskill Mountains by the ghosts of the crew of Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon, when the story's main character, Rip van Winkle, encountered them on those heights. My fellow students, all of whom hail from countries other than Germany, had no clue about what I was saying, so our instructor asked me to explain the story's plot and characters. I briefly retold this delightful tale of Rip, a British colonial ne'er-do-well who imbibed a purple-colored liquor offered by these spirits during a hunting excursion in the mountains near his village and fell asleep for twenty years. When he awoke from his slumber, he discovered that his clothes were ragged, his dog had disappeared, and his flintlock was rusted beyond repair. Upon returning to his village, Rip learned from its inhabitants that the colonists had revolted against the British crown, that the British forces had been defeated, and that the new nation had been born, all during his long snooze in the mountains. I also mentioned to the class that this short story was firmly established in the American Canon of Literature and, at least during the Twentieth Century, had been routinely taught in school to American students and had been celebrated in our culture via films, cartoons (e.g., the 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon entitled Have You Got Any Castles) and even a pop song from the early 1960s with Rip's full name as its title, which had been performed by a now-forgotten band, the Devotions. (Both the 1938 cartoon and the Devotions' song are available on YouTube.)

In any event, I would enjoy hearing the verdict on whether this recent coincidence qualifies as another instance of the "WAIS Effect" or if it is merely just one of those oft-experienced, damp squibs.

JE comments:  I'd call it an uncanny coincidence, and a great story.  The WAIS Effect per se is something different, when a recondite topic comes up on the Forum and then you encounter the same thing in the non-virtual world.  It's even more "effecty" when the real-life experience happens on the same day.  (But I'm amenable to revising our definition, Pat!)

Who knew that "Rip van Winkle," the quintessentially American story, was composed in England?  Pat Mears has the photo to prove it (below).  Finally, Pat, when time permits, tell us more about Birmingham, which tends to be off the radar of tourists.

Birmingham, England



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