Part 1: Middle Temple Law Library
Confused by the title of this blog post? Don’t worry, I’ll clear it up after I backtrack a bit and tell you about our penultimate class trip. Yesterday, after I visited Wesley’s Chapel and the Museum of Methodism, I made my way back to the dorms (remember, everyone else had gone to see the Museum of London), and joined my classmates to travel to the Middle Temple Law Library. The legal system in Britain is quite different from ours here in the States, and it’s a bit confusing to explain, but I’ll do my best. In the UK, there are two legal professions, Barristers and Solicitors, and each serve different functions within the system. Barristers are actually called to the English Bar, and Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court which are able to do so. All barristers must belong to one of the Inns, which serve as a professional association. The other three Inns of Court are the Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn, and Lincoln’s Inn, but we specifically toured Middle Temple, which has a rockstar history. The Temple actually served as the headquarters of the Knights Templar, until they fell into disfavor and were kicked out.
Each of the Four Inns has its own library and corresponding subject specialities, with Middle Temple’s being International Law. The current library was built in 1641 and founded by a barrister named Robert Ashley (who donated his personal collection of 4,000 books); it has survived many of London’s travesties, including the Great Fire and the World Wars. Today, the library is home to 250,000 books, journals, and various other legal documents, and contains one of the largest collections of American law related items outside of the US. Unlike many of the libraries and archives we’ve visited throughout the UK, books are not shelved according to size at Middle Temple, but rather by subject. The library uses its own internal subject heading system, as the Library of Congress subject headings were insufficient to meet their needs.
Now, here are two special fun facts about Middle Temple: 1. Each of the four Inns has 2 royal benchers, meaning member(s) of the Royal Family are called to the Bar and made Honorary Barristers. Middle Temple’s former 2 benchers were Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. As both of those lovely ladies are now deceased, Prince William was called to the Bar in 2009. 2. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, he wrote a scene (Act 2, Scene 4) that took place in “the Temple-garden,” and writes of lawyers within rose garden. Now, both the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple match Shakespeare’s description, but we’re all choosing to believe he was definitely talking about Middle Temple! Once we toured the library, we were taken to the Great Hall, which was built in 1570. The hall is magnificent – and actually reminds me of the Great Hall at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. It has the largest double-hammered beam roof in the world, and was the site for the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. (The playwright himself as well as Queen Elizabeth I were supposedly in attendance!) The table, which is still used by students, Barristers, and other members of the Inn daily, is rumored to have been a gift from the Queen, and the walls are covered with the shields of readers (a stepping-stone towards becoming a bencher).
Though I was not initially particularly ecstatic to be visiting a Law Library, I think Middle Temple is probably the Law Library to visit in the UK, and I’m glad we went. Learning about its unique history as well as the UK legal system proved to make for an interesting and informative afternoon!
Part 2: Some Like it Hot
Wednesday evening, after our trip to Middle Temple and then a visit to Jubilee Gardens, Jessica and I went to the BFI for a screening of Some Like it Hot (1959). The BFI (British Film Institute), was founded in 1933 and preserves art, films, television, and moving images from the UK, with the intent of providing access to these materials to the public. The BFI’s National archive is in fact the largest film archive in the world, with hundreds of thousands of items, including collections related to specific people (directors, producers) in the film industry. As I said, access is a key part of the BFI’s strategic plan; they have an IMAX theatre (a 1 minute walk from our dorm rooms!), which is the UK’s biggest cinema screen, and theaters on the Southbank (a 5 minute walk for us). Jessica and I attended our screening on the Southbank!
Some Like it Hot of course stars the beloved Marilyn Monroe, along with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. I won’t spoil the plot, but if you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. It truly is hilarious, and Monroe, Curtis, and Lemmon are excellent to watch (especially on the big screen!). I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the BFI – the theatre itself was fantastic! It felt like an “old school” type of theatre, with red velvet curtains and matching chair upholstery. The seats were incredibly comfortable, and I had to laugh, thinking that Jim (my step-dad who falls asleep during almost every movie, whether at home or in a theatre), would have been zonked out in about 30 seconds!
Jessica and I had a great time, and it was nice to laugh, relax, and not worry about research papers, or think about how I’ll be heading home in just a few short days. I wish there was a place in Columbia that regularly screened old films – the older I get, the more I appreciate them and understand their cultural significance. It’s wonderful that we have institutions such as the BFI and the AFI (American Film Institute) to preserve these cultural treasures. I’m reminded of MIRC (Moving Image Research Collection), which is one of the libraries at USC. I had the chance to tour MIRC last semester, and was amazed at not only what they do (films are quite tricky and expensive to preserve!), but also their materials, which includes a large Chinese film collection and the Fox Movietone News Collection. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction belonging to a professional field that has such a vested interest in not only preserving, but also providing access to any and all types and formats of information.
Part 3: The Crucible
My not-so-great afternoon was drastically turned around by a Ben’s Cookie and my wonderful theatre adventure with friends! Tonight, Jessica, Michelle (who arrived in London today – yay!), and I had the pleasure of seeing The Crucible at The Old Vic, a legendary London theatre. The Old Vic opened back in 1818, and since then has undergone multiple renovations while under some famous management; in 2004, Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors, was named the artistic director, and he appears in the theatre’s productions from time to time. We were fortunate enough to snag some of the “Under 25s” tickets, available for 12 pounds at every performance.
The Crucible was written in the early 1950’s by playwright Arthur Miller, the third and final husband of Marilyn Monroe (does the blog title make sense now?). It is one of my favorite plays, and was able to capture my attention back in high-school with its dark, brooding nature, bits of humor, and non-fictional ties to the Salem Witch Trials of Massachusetts. The protagonist, a flawed, but ultimately noble man named John Proctor was played by Richard Armitage (North & South, The Hobbit trilogy). Unlike the character he played, Armitage’s performance was flawless, as was the entire production. The supporting cast was full of newcomers, but together created a necessary powerful underlying feeling of tension and hysteria throughout the play. In all, the play was 3.5 hours long, but I could have stayed even longer, and was left enamored by the experience.
Below is a 1 minute trailer of The Crucible. Watch it. If you’re a theatre fan at all, you’ll probably get goosebumps, just like I did.
As frustrating as London can be (this week it has been, or at least seemed, stifling hot and extra-crowded), I have cherished the opportunities I’ve had to be a part of London’s exciting and constant cultural offerings. Samuel Johnson, an English writer from the 1700’s, once wrote, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Truer words have never been written.
Thank you London,