William Shakespeare is an unforgettable part of English Literature. For generations before us and for generations after, his tragedies and comedies would continue to inspire people. It would illustrate the relevance of his characters composed in the sixteenth century compared to modern-day people. Sharp orators like Octavius, shrewd and cunning wives like Lady Macbeth, over ambitious betrayers like Macbeth would come and go but what would remain sacrosanct is the literary predictions of these personalities that Shakespeare made centuries ago. To understand his literature, it is equally important to understand the man himself and what better to know him from his birthplace Stratford-Upon-Avon.
My passion for both literature and travelling lead me to Stratford-upon-Avon on a bright sunny day. This adventure, in true sense, was my first solo trip in the UK. Upon looking at the itinerary at the International Society Website, I immediately booked a ticket for myself. Thus, we set out on a bright sunny morning from Manchester to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a two and half hour journey down South to reach our destination. After reaching the city, we were left on our own to explore this beautiful place for the day. Stratford is a small town pertaining mostly to the ideologies of Shakespeare but there are a few other amazing places to visit too. This post would highlight only regarding Shakespeare while the next would deal with the other amazing places to see in this city.
I had chosen four very specific places to visit: – Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft and Shakespeare’s Grave apart from having an exterior view of the Theatres while walking around the city.
The first Shakespeare property that I visited was the house where the famous bard was born. The aura and charm of the house was so sophisticated dated back to the century that he was born, that it almost felt like a portal to the past. Upon entering the gates, at the reception area, excerpts from his dramas were being played. A large display screen showed clips from movies as well. I entered the garden walkway on leaving the reception. The garden was unique in the most interesting way possible. A large board across the garden had all his dramas shortened and visually represented for the visitors to see and read.
A large pulpit was constructed at one side where actors dressed themselves up as the characters of his play and entertained the guests with monologues and scenes from Hamlet. The ushers in the main building were dressed up in Tudor costumes and narrated the rich history of the house to the onlookers.
The main highlight of the house was the room where Shakespeare was born. In fact, the window of this room has been specially preserved. Many actors who have played any character from his dramas have actually come and signed on the window making it all the more special.
The reconstructed window now overlooks an all year Christmas Market on the opposite footpath. This market is opened 365 days a year selling Christmas curios to the tourists and locals.
Another interesting display of this house was the glove making chamber. William Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker. His chamber was filled with glove making equipments and ready gloves basking in the sun. The last stop in Shakespeare’s Birthplace was the amazing gift shop which had postcards and books with phrases and scenes printed from his comedies and tragedies.
Shakespeare’s New Place:
Most of us knew Shakespeare as one of the greatest playwrights the world could ever be gifted; but very few know that he was a family man too. Not only did he marry Anne Hathaway and have three children, but also he was a loving husband and a doting father. He was born in his father home (Shakespeare’s Birthplace) but created his own family home a little further from his childhood home. This family home dated from 1597 to 1616 is called Shakespeare’s New Place. The entrance to this house has been reconstructed to give it the form of a modern-day gate. But I could very well feel the vibe of crossing a threshold on which stood the main gate to this house years ago. Upon entering I found myself strolling on the garden. This garden was huge and various trees were planted in it. It was also interspersed with various sculptures. His chair and desk, sitting on which the ideas of many a great tragedies and comedies came to him was also on display. I had thought the garden ended here, but to prove me wrong the path extended and lead to another garden, bigger than the former. This one called, the Great Garden was the largest surviving structure of the original house.
After exploring the gardens at leisure I walked into the house itself. The house has been converted into a museum and hosts permanent and temporary display throughout Shakespeare’s days as a writer. From rekindling his way of working to the inspirations behind the characters he created all found a place in this exquisite museum. In fact, some of the displays even contained actual objects from the house before its re-construction.
Further down the road from the New Place, I found myself standing outside the beautiful cottage of John Hall’s Croft. This was the house of Shakespeare’s son-in-law and daughter Susanna. It was active from 1614-1951 before finally being given away to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; the organisation responsible for the maintenance and tours of the Shakespeare properties throughout this city. The house mainly had day-to-day objects in display reflecting on the lives of his daughter and son-in-law. But the major highlight was the room in which Susanna gave birth to her daughter Elizabeth.
Shakespeare’s Grave/ The Holy Trinity Church:
A two minutes walk from Hall’s Croft lead me to the most coveted destination of my trip Shakespeare’s Grave inside the Holy Trinity Church. The moment I entered the church grounds, the beautiful walkway surrounded by numerous graves on both sides greeted me. The interiors of the church were strikingly beautiful. The atmosphere was filled with peacefulness and solitude. The many visitors inside the church were admiring the wall murals and frescoes.
I wondered about the church in awe for sometime before realising that I had come for the grave. But I was taken for a surprise when I saw Anne Hathaway, Susanna and Hall Croft’s graves as well lying beside that of Shakespeare. His tombstone said,
“Good Friend for Jesus’ sake Forbear,
To Dig the Dust Enclosed Here.
Blessed be the Man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones. “
I must admit that it took me a while to get out of the beauty of the church. But I had to move onto my next destination. Though, I did not have the time to actually go and watch a theatre but that was no excuse for not having even walked past the Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The roads lead me to the Avon Canals and to my last Shakespeare related destination: The Shakespeare Memorial. This memorial was a unique columnar structure made of five sculptures. Sitting in the middle of the structure was Shakespeare himself peering over the mighty characters of Lady Macbeth, Prince Hamlet, Falstaff and Prince Hal that he created. Built in 1888, it is also known as the Gower Memorial. Each sculpture represents a theme- Lady Macbeth represents tragedy, Falstaff represents comedy and Hamlet and Prince Hal are the symbols of Philosophy and history respectively.
Other places to see: Apart from the ones mentioned above, the two other heritage sites to see are Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. In fact, you can actually purchase an all property entry ticket which would enable you to visit all five of Shakespeare’s properties in town. In case you would want to visit only the three I have visited you can settle for a different clubbed ticket too. Their prices would vary depending on the type of tickets and entries to the number of properties you are looking for.
My travels in Stratford -Upon- Avon certainly did not stop at these Shakespeare’s properties and I would be back soon with the non-Shakespeare related things to do in this lovely city.