Seeking Shakespeare- Stratford Upon Avon

Seeking Shakespeare- Stratford Upon Avon

“And to thee and thy company, I bid a hearty welcome”. The Tempest Act 5, scene 1.

These words are engraved on the wooden frame as we enter Shakespeare’s ‘New place’. This location was where Shakespeare owned his first family home, but years after his death the house was knocked down and replaced, a new entrance has since been built on the site of the original gatehouse. But instead of building a replica of the house that once stood here, the Trust has turned it into a Garden. Tributes to Shakespeare are intertwined in the exhibition and the Garden boasts a botanical beauty in the heart of Stratford Upon Avon. During the construction of this house the resident’s referred to the dwelling as ‘New Place’. This was before Shakespeare bought the property and is where the name of this garden derived from.

Highlights of the garden itself include a stainless steel globe; the locations of the countries and continents reflect the discoveries of that period. Some of the countries are in different places and some yet to be discovered. The names and dates of each of Shakespeare’s playwrights are flagged within the flowerbeds and with each breath of wind their sails turn. On the paving slabs of the courtyard, the first sentence on each of his sonnets is engraved into the floor.

I become fixated over Sonnet 106.

“When in the chronicle of wasted time. I see descriptions of the fairest wights”.

The words seem to resonate with my feelings of how time is a destroyer. I stand there for a moment, taking in the crowds of international tourists and the tap of raindrops onto my wavy curls.

Another piece of Art that pays homage to the playwright is that of a ship. Etched below the ship are the words:

“To the King's ship. Invisible as thou art there shalt thou find the Mariners asleep under the hatches”. The Tempest Act 5, Scene 1.  

Following from the gardens is the exhibition centre, which is housed in a typical Tudor house. Interactive resources and dressing up activities are readily available.

After wandering around 'Shakespeare's New Place' we deploy onto the cobbled streets of Stratford Upon Avon. We pass the pastry shops, old-fashioned sweet shops and antique centres. The wooden beamed Tudor inspired houses line the streets and brightly assorted doors stand out from the crowd. I come across the second exhibit of William Shakespeare, ‘Shakespeare’s birthplace’. The costumed guides check your tickets as you enter from the Gardens. The tanned walls of the cottage are submerged under a thin blanket of plants. I listen to a guide and his group who are a few meters in front. William along with his siblings were born in this house. He was the oldest surviving child at that time as his two elder siblings had died at an early age. William also spent five years living in the same house with his wife Anne Hathaway, after inheriting the house as the eldest surviving child. William’s parents John and Mary had a total of eight children.    

In 1601 following the death of his father, William leased part of this property into an Inn named the Maidenhead and was later renamed The Swan and Maidenhead. Shakespeare’s family line ended following his granddaughter Elizabeth’s death, she was married twice but had no children. The house then went under ownership to a descendant of Joan Hart, which was one of Shakespeare’s sisters and then was later purchased in 1847 by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.

The heels of my shoes clink onto the stone floor as I enter the house of Shakespeare. The guide informs us in an animated tone that there would have been no glass through the bars of the windows. The fire in front of me would have had no chimney and the smoke from the fire would have been contained within the room. There would have been no definition of rooms; instead, the rooms would have had multiple purposes. He points towards the next room and we move along accordingly.  

The next room hosts a wooden table dressed in white coloured gloves, notebooks, pottery and what looks like an old-fashioned board game. The bed is lined with pickle green and tiger orange drapes. A candle sits on the carved wooden chest at the end of the bed. The sun shines through the narrow casement windows dressed in lattice, it lights the room.

As you wander through the rest of the house, following in the footsteps of William Shakespeare you get a glimpse of life during that period. The highlight of this particular visit was the glass window on display in one of the top rooms. Engraved into the glass were signatures of the visitors to the house. Famous names in literature that had been inscribed were Charles Dickens, the actress Ellen Terry and novelist Sir Walter Scott.  

At the rear exit of the house are small gardens of flowers and herbs. A courtyard is also at the rear, a lady dressed in Tudor clothing re-enacts Shakespeare’s plays to eager visitors. I stop and watch for a moment as she quotes a scene from ‘Much ado about nothing’. I leave Shakespeare’s birthplace onto the cobbled streets of Stratford Upon Avon, the gloomy weather seems to have cleared up as I wander into the shops. 

A very successful day uncovering the life of Shakespeare. 

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