|Stratford-upon-Avon, Anne Hathaway's Cottage|
My friend and fellow children's book writer, Gretchen Woelfle, has spent the last several months in England. She is also an avid Shakespeare fan. Here is her report of her trip to Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a one-note town, but its overtones are still sounding three hundred and fifty-odd years after its native son left the provinces for the London stage. The town fathers and mothers have done a fine job of honoring him. They’ve minimized the tack and preserved many wonderful ancient buildings in the compact town center.
Unfortunately we can’t visit New Place, the rather splendid house that Will bought for his retirement, and where he died in 1616. In 1759, the owner, Rev. Francis Gastrell, annoyed by hordes of gawking tourists, demolished the house. The good people of Stratford drove him out of town.
|Shakespeare's birth room|
But we can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace: the room where he was born, the adjoining room where he slept as a boy, his father’s glove-making workshop, and a garden that has replaced the less fragrant tanning sheds his father used. Well-versed costumed guides answered my many questions, and offered all sorts of quirky tidbits. Did you know that the Elizabethans slept with their head and shoulders propped against a wall? (See the pillows in my photo.) They thought that if they lay prone, the devil would assume they were dead, and steal their souls.
|Shakespeare's funerary monument|
Holy Trinity Church saw Will’s baptism and burial. His grave and funerary monument are at the altar, and a friendly verger shared Shakespeare stories with us, and pointed out some rather risqué carvings in the choir stalls.
A guide at Anne Hathaway’s “cottage” gave us a very detailed genealogy of the family and the house. Anne and her family lived in a two-room cottage, but it expanded over time into today’s twelve-room house.
King Edward VI School is still going strong. Today’s boys (and a few girls) attend classes in a 20th century building, but they have daily morning assembly in the 14th century building where Will learned “some Latin and less Greek.” Upstairs a Tudor Latin master instructs us tourists, while brandishing a birch rod to keep us focused on his lesson. A current student, overseeing the prefects’ room with a table covered with old boys’ carved initials, described the school today.
|The river Avon|
More Elizabethan houses and pubs, small museums, boat rides on the River Avon, and countless tea shops add to Stratford’s charms.
The main draw for me though, was the Royal Shakespeare Company and its two theaters. I saw Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare’s last play, a collaboration with John Fletcher (based on Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale.) It’s far from his best, but it filled my Shakespeare Bucket. I’ve now seen all thirty-eight plays (and Venus and Adonis) on stage.
That won’t stop me returning to Stratford. There’s a new garden at New Place that opened the day after we left, and my Shakespeare Pass is good until August 2017. I just might make it back by then.
For more information on Stratford’s attractions: