On Saturday I took a daytrip to Warwickshire with Philippa and Toakase to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of the eternal bard, William Shakespeare. It was only my second visit, having spent a couple of days there in 1997 with my Canadian chums, during which time we saw a bizarre yet riveting Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Cymbeline. This time it was just for the day, and the RSC was only running a single evening performance of King Lear so there was no chance to watch the board-treaders. But in our six hours we fitted in a decent survey of the town’s main attractions.
In this endeavour we were assisted by the most superb winter sunshine and warmth imaginable. The farms of Warwickshire were sprinkled with snow as the train headed northwards and the overnight forecast had been for a high of five degrees and a light snowfall during the day, but instead we were treated to beaming rays and balmy temperatures. We even ate our pub lunch (fine fare at the Dirty Duck) outside to take advantage of the vitamin D.
Some edited highlights:
A cunning man did calculate my birth… (Suffolk, King Henry VI Pt 2)
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Henley Street, which is two late 15th or early 16th-century houses knocked together. It was originally part of a row of similar dwellings, but the locals knocked down the adjoining houses in 1857 for fear of an outbreak of fire destroying the birthplace. Now the house is at the centre of a busy pedestrian arcade and is accompanied by an ugly visitor centre (left background).
Go back again, and be new beaten home? For God's sake, send some other messenger (Dromio of Ephesus, The Comedy of Errors)
New Place, Shakespeare’s Stratford home from 1597 until his death in 1616, is now a memorial garden. Richard Sale, in his guidebook The Cotswolds & Shakespeare Country (2009) explains why:
[Following Shakespeare’s death] the house was left to Dr John Hall and his wife Susanna, Shakespeare’s eldest daughter. Following their deaths the house had many owners, passing eventually to Rev Francis Gastrell in the mid-eighteenth century. By then Shakespeare’s reputation was such that the house attracted many visitors, much to Gastrell’s annoyance. So many came to sit under Shakespeare’s mulberry tree – where, reputedly, the poet had sat – that in 1756 Gastrell cut it down. The bitter confrontations which followed this vandalism culminated, in 1759, in Gastrell’s demolition of the house. Such was the outrage at this that Gastrell was forced to leave Stratford.
One bred of alms and foster'd with cold dishes… (Cloten, Cymbeline)
These early 15th-century almshouses on Church Street were built by the Guild of the Holy Cross to house the worthy poor, and are still used for that purpose today. The chimneys were constructed rather tall to minimise the risk of sparks igniting the original thatched roof.
Here lie I down, and measure out my grave… (Adam, As You Like It)
Shakespeare’s grave lies in the Holy Trinity Church – it’s the one outlined in black at the bottom left of the picture. The inscription reads:
Good Frend for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare!
Blese be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones
Above the grave is the memorial bust of Shakespeare carved two years after his death but said by his wife to be a decent likeness. Never fear, they renew the feather quill when it gets a bit manky.
All comfort that the dark night can afford be to thy person, noble father-in-law! (Richmond, King Richard III)
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is in the village of Shottery a short distance outside Stratford. The suburbs have since swallowed up the distance between the two, but you can still walk the path to the cottage and wonder if Shakespeare took the same steps when he was courting his bride-to-be. The fifteenth-century dwelling is that of a relatively prosperous farmer, and the surrounding gardens have been modelled on gardens of that era. Inside, one upstairs room features two noteworthy relics: the Hathaway Bed and the Shakespeare Chair:
The bed, according to the Cottage museum website, ‘may well have been the one valued at £3 in 1624, on the death of Anne Hathaway's brother’. Equally, it may well be an entirely different bed, but never mind. The Chair may have been a courting settle with which William and Anne conducted their romance, but again, we have no proof other than the fact that the Shakespeare crest was carved upon it at some point. The Chair was lost to the Cottage from 1792, when an unscrupulous collector persuaded someone to sell it to them, until its rediscovery in 2002.
Text search: The Collected Works of Shakespeare
Pub lunch: The Dirty Duck
Tourism: Visit Stratford
More photos: Facebook album