Nat’s Travels – Getting to know Shakespeare
Over the past few years I have become a little obsessed with Shakespeare. I was always interested in school, but then I had to pick plays apart in high school and that made me lose interest. After seeing the Taming of the Shrew at the Globe, my interest was revived and slowly became an obsession. So with this obsession growing I read books on the bard, became addicted to Upstart Crow and decided that 2018 would be the year that I explore Stratford. And that’s exactly what I did at the beginning of October.
Taking A Walk
I had been told by several people that the Town Walk in Stratford-upon-Avon is well worth doing, and since I love a walking tour it was my priority on the first day. And I am so glad I did!
The focus was obviously Shakespeare, but there was much more to learn about the bard and the town than meets the eye. The small town certainly has plenty of history. From the most photographed Costa (people think it is a Tudor building, but it is not) to why there are two golden post boxes, there’s more to Stratford than Shakespeare.
Shakespeare came up quite a lot though. And the tour pointed out anything and everything connected with the playwright. His Birthplace, New Place, Hall’s Croft, Puck, the RSC theatre, the Guild Chapel and School, the HSBC with Shakespeare plays painted on. The list continues… But for me, this tour ticked a big one off my list, Holy Trinity Church. This is the church when Shakespeare was baptised, married and is now buried. He is buried with some of his family members in a very privileged place. Normally, these positions would only be taken up by the same people for a few years, but Shakespeare had a curse written on his gravestone so that he would not be dug up and moved.
Shakespeare’s Houses In The Town
In Stratford-upon-Avon there are three Shakespeare houses in the town itself. These are owned and maintained by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. I started my Shakespeare journey at the Birthplace, it seemed like a good starting point!
The Birthplace was a very interesting house. In this house Shakespeare was born, grew up and spent the first five years of his marriage. It is actually three houses knocked into one. Exploring the rooms and the grounds gave an insight to what life would be like in the Tudor times.
If you can only visit one of the houses in the town, visit this one. Inside there is the old window of the birthing room, this has been removed and put on display as many famous authors made pilgrimages here and signed the windows. You can see Sir Walter Scott’s signature, among others. Although my favourite part of this house was outside – live actors were performing snippets of Shakespeare plays and sonnets. I could have sat all day watching them.
Also in the town itself is New Place. Unfortunately the house itself was demolished, but the Trust have tended the gardens and sculptures of the plays written here have been placed around. There is an Elizabethan Knot Garden, quotes littering the floor and a small museum in the adjacent house. There is also a Mulberry tree that is believed to have been grown from the cutting of a tree that Shakespeare had in the garden.
The last house in the town is Hall’s Croft. This is where Susanna (Shakespeare’s oldest daughter) and her husband, John Hall, lived. John Hall was a doctor and apparently a good one for the age. This house had some interesting information on remedies and treatments of the time.
Out Of Town
Two houses are owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust out of the town. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is about a 30 minute walk out of town. This cottage was where Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife grew up. It is likely that this is also where the bard courted Anne.
The house contains many original objects belonging to the Shakespeare Family. A chair known as the ‘courting chair’ and a bed given to the Hathaways by Shakespeare’s granddaughter. Though my favourite part of this house was actually outside. There was a tree garden with sculptures, as I explored it there was no one else there, so it was incredibly peaceful. In the garden are sculptures of the plays and also forty trees and other plants that Shakespeare mentions.
The last Shakespeare property was the one that I wish I’d had more time to explore. It was definitely one of my favourites (between this one and the Birthplace). The property is a about a fifteen minute drive from Stratford and is Mary Arden’s Farm.
Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother and the property is so much fun to visit. It is a working farm, with several rare breeds. There are two houses on the site, the Arden’s farmhouse and the Palmer’s Farmhouse. What I loved about this property was the demonstrations, there was always something to see. Goose herding, falconry, a tour of the house and, my favourite, lunch. The staff literally eat their lunch in front of you, which is a little weird, but very informative. They go through Tudor table manners, Tudor food and more.
Finding More Shakespeare
One thing I loved about Stratford was that they were not subtle with the Shakespeare connection, and who can blame them? Just walk around the town and you will find plaques explaining the connections, cafes named after something to do with Shakespeare and statues of characters. Puck, a fool and the Gower Memorial to name just a few.
I found the Gower Memorial fascinating, There are four corners with a character and a theme. There are then other symbols that match the theme – Philosophy, Tragedy, Comedy and History. Obviously, Shakespeare is depicted in the centre of the memorial.
Another not to be missed Shakespeare link is the Schoolroom and Guildhall. Found in the town, not far from New Place and Hall’s Croft, this is where Shakespeare went to school. Inside there is a lot of information and a video to watch, but it is upstairs that the real fun begins.
Up the stairs is an actor, playing a schoolmaster, so you get a taste of what Shakespeare would have learnt here. A little bit of Latin to start you off, with a bit of information about the school day. Then you get to try to use a quill – it’s harder than it looks! I honestly had so much fun.
Stratford Town Walk (https://www.stratfordtownwalk.co.uk/) offer sightseeing walks of Stratford-upon-Avon. The guided walks take place every day and give an introduction to the town and Shakespeare.The tour starts from £6 for adults and lasts for approximately 2 hours Ghost tours are also available.
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/) own and maintain five properties in and around Stratford-upon-Avon. The charity aims to educate guests about the famous bards life and Tudor England, promoting enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s works. The properties can be visited separately or the Full Story Ticket allows unlimited visits to all the properties for 12 months from £20.25 per person.
Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall opened in 2016 and allows guests to discover the rarely seen areas of Shakespeare’s life, providing the missing chapter of the Shakespeare story in Stratford. Tickets start from £8 for an adult.