Thursday, June 4, 2009

All the World’s a Stage (Stratford-Upon-Avon, England)

If John and Mary Shakespeare had not borne a son, William, who proved to be the world’s finest English language writer and playwright of all time, then it is doubtful whether the travel wonder of Stratford would have progressed beyond a pleasant English market town. Rather, people gather in their hordes to make a literary pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon and “The Bard”. Stratford has captured and preserved aspects of the city centre around the early 1600s, especially anything remotely related to the writer and his family.

Doing a circular walk around town (the information centre has suggested walking tours marked on street maps), you can pass most of the major aspects of Shakespeare in time order starting at his half-timbered birthplace, containing an excellent museum detailing the shreds of understanding of Shakespeare’s life. Past Nash’s House, where the writer’s granddaughter lived, the grammar school (where Shakespeare likely schooled, though no-one seems to know for sure), another Shakespeare’s house and you’ll find the stately Hall’s Croft.

This elegant medieval mansion was the home of Shakespeare’s eldest daughter and her doctor husband. It hosts a creaky period feel with an intriguing display on the medicines of the time and a strong encouragement to stay healthy in those times.

Notably, High Street briefly escapes the Shakespeare-mania and is lined with well-preserved Elizabethan half-timbered houses from Shakespeare’s time with their low ceiling beams. Except for the cars, a bit of imagination could take you back to those times with the hubbub of people wandering to and from market for their daily needs.

Walking towards the Avon River, the Holy Trinity Church is the last resting place of William Shakespeare. Lit by fine stained glass windows and laying next to his wife in this stately honeycomb-coloured church, Shakespeare’s simple grave is marked by a curse in verse and a fear of being dug up:

      Good Frend For Iesus Sake Forbeare,
      To Digg The Dvst Encloased Heare.
      Bleste Be Ye Man Yt Spares Thes Stones,
      And Cvrst Be He Yt Moves My Bones.

Along the same river are the main theatres including the Royal Shakespeare and the Swan, the latter being modelled on Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre. Different plays were on different nights when I was there and are well worth experiencing to complete the Shakespeare experience (though tickets were difficult to get). In sunny weather, punting along the Avon is a popular pastime and shows the town at its best.

A kilometer west of the town along a marked footpath is the steeply-roofed thatched farmhouse of Anne Hathaway (top photo). With a resplendent flower garden, trimmed hedges and superb wood-carved four-poster bed, this is the most photogenic of the Shakespeare houses.

Stratford-upon-Avon has strained every thread of detail about William Shakespeare’s poorly documented life, preserving the half-timbered houses of the time. If The Bard isn’t your thing, there are any number other English town that have richer histories, better sights and are less crowded. But if your school studies sparked even an interest in our most famous playwright, then Stratford is for you and a chance to reacquaint yourself with a play that you studied some years ago. And while you are there, head another ten kilometres north and visit the travel wonder of Warwick with its immense castle and impressive church.

Other British and Irish Posts
Soaking Up Culture (Bath)
The Illuminated Manuscript (Dublin, Ireland)
A Bit of British (Gibraltar)
Jacob's Ladder (Cheddar)
Half-Timbered Houses (Lavenham)


Nomadic Matt said...

i really liked this city while i was there. I found the architecture cool and i liked the church the bard is in.

great photos!

Mark H said...

@nomadicmatt: I agree - great architecture.

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