I have just made it back from Český Krumlov and am well on my way to catching up with my blog posts. So, stayed tuned for several being thrown at you in the next couple days. On Tuesday, just before taking our expedition to Český Krumlov, our group had the opportunity to go on an alchemy tour. I have to admit, I had a rather vague idea of what exactly alchemy is until going on this tour, but I was rather enlightened and entertained by the idea of the 14th century version of chemistry and magic combined.
At the conclusion of the tour, we climbed a staircase carved entirely from a single tree to about the third story of the tower to a reconstruction (as precisely as possible) of famous Prague alchemist Edward Kelley’s study. As soon as we reached the daunting attic workshop, I immediately gained interest. There were old leather bound books, contraptions of glass and metal of all sorts, skulls, dead bodies, skeletons, animals, complete with a life-size figurine of Sir William Shakespeare himself, positioned to be dreaming up A Midummer’s Night Dream, and The Dark Lady Sonnets.
That was the final straw; I was hooked. Sending a theatre addict into an actual attic with a different side of Shakespeare not normally advertised? It’s the equivalent of heroine, but it doesn’t stop there. Who set up the museum? Uh, not only than, you guessed it, local theatrical set, costume, and lighting designers: the whole sha-bang in one teeny tiny historical kooky attic space. Knowing this, the idea of alchemy blossomed quickly into a very interesting tale. Kelley worked as an alchemist attempting to turn regular metals into gold (and the occasional dabbling in the magic arts). The tower that houses the recreated study is indeed the same exact place Kelley had his own secrets locked away (thus it is a recreation and not a restoration). Going through the space was entirely eerie, yet thrilling, and well, to say it magical. It really felt like I was in Snape’s Defense Against the Dark Arts course at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Aside from the amazing design concepts, Shakespeare’s involvement with Kelley struck an interest for me. This theatre king, so to speak, used to hang out with a character like Kelley? Well, he indeed writes about witches often (i.e. the very infamous Macbeth), so I suppose that knowledge was direct observation, but what I am curious to know is did he participate? How did Kelley allow an odd fellow like Shakespeare into his circle of friends? What was Shakespeare’s level of involvement with alchemy? All questions that are currently running through my head and being filed in the “need to research more” section of my brain. Altogether I think Alchemy, Shakespeare, and Dark Arts could make for a good combinative piece of theatre.