Stratford-upon-Avon: A Shakespeare Lover’s Dream

Yes, I have Sonnet 116 (and a few others) memorized.

Yes, I have read Othello three times and Hamlet four times.

Yes, I wrote a 20 page research paper on the feminist interpretation of Ophelia.

Yes, I would identify myself as a Shakespeare enthusiast.

With that being said, Stratford-upon-Avon was a bit of a giddy dream. Even if you aren’t well-acquainted with the Bard, it’s still a lovely, flourishing town worth visiting in Warwickshire, England. However, if you do plan on undertaking the full Shakespearean experience, which I heartily recommend, then a Full Story ticket is most definitely the best option for you. These are cheaper if purchased online in advance and, if you are a college student like me, then you receive a special “concessions” rate: £18.90 for entry into all five of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s historical sites. (Note: We did not visit Mary Arden’s Farm.)

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

IMG_6376-1.jpg

It’s fascinating to think that a wee William Shakespeare once toddled around in this abode’s humble kitchen and likely played outside right here. John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden, lived in this cottage and raised eight children (of which, William was the third to be born). In 1568, John became the Mayor of Stratford, which was the highest elective office in the town and perfectly suited for owning this, the largest house on Henley Street. Because of his father’s lucrative position, young William was able to attend the local grammar school. For a brief time in the 1600s, part of this property was leased as an inn: The Swan & Maidenhead. Now, the home is protected by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and visited daily by eager tourists from all around the world. Surrounding the cottage itself is a garden full of herbs and flowers with literary significance in Shakespeare’s works. For example, fennel from Hamlet and lavender from The Winter’s Tale. Nearby, a devoted thespian recites Shakespearean monologues from heart. When we stopped to listen, he recited from scenes in Othello and Henry V. A gift shop beckons next door as well as a small Shakespeare museum with a copy of his First Folio.

New Place

IMG_6377

New Place was Shakespeare’s family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. Alas, the residence was tragically demolished in 1759 by Reverend Francis Gastrell in a fit of spite (who also infamously chopped down a mulberry tree planted by the Bard), so a garden is all that remains — assembled in loving memory of what was once present. Shakespeare bought New Place with funds he had earned as an established playwright, and it is believed that he wrote several of his later plays there, including The Tempest. Flagstones are scattered throughout the garden, containing snippets of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. There are also markers indicating the original blueprint of New Place and where each room would have been.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

IMG_6386

Anne Hathaway’s cottage was truly my favorite spot in Stratford-upon-Avon — a tranquil rural oasis tucked away on the fringes of the town. When we arrived, the place was charmingly decorated for a vintage garden party straight out of the 1950s — complete with a Victrola phonograph playing some lilting swing tunes and gals decked out in overalls and scarlet kerchiefs à la Rosie the Riveter. Built in 1493, this home belonged to the Hathaway family, successful sheep farmers, for generations. Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s future wife, was born here in 1556. It is also here that, during their courtship, they would reportedly huddle by the fireplace (seen in the center below) and converse with hushed tones, banter, and laughter. The grounds are extensive and stunning, even including an orchard. However, we were prevented from exploring fully as the site was closing down for the day. Unperturbed, we fled to the cute tea house across the road and ordered a (non-alcoholic) ginger beer or two.

Hall’s Croft

bp-halls-croft-1024x576

Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, lived here with her prominent physician husband, John Hall. The home actually served as a school in the 1800s and was not purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust until 1949 and not opened to the public until restorations had been completed in 1951. There are beautiful gardens to the rear of the residence, containing medicinal herbs that John Hall would have utilized in his practice. While some physicians of the time relied on astronomy or blood-letting, he valued holistic treatments made from plants, herbs, and geological minerals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s