22 February 2011

Visit to Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Stratford-upon-Avon is a welcoming little town and is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  We had come to see William Shakespeare’s birthplace and see if we could get some sense of his life.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

A charity called the The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has been established to promote his life and works.  First impressions were disappointing, as we were faced with a hard sell to visit all five houses.  We then had to endure a well intentioned audio visual presentation and I wondered if it would be possible to get a refund. The day was saved by the knowledgeable guide who took us on a tour of William Shakespeare’s first house.

Shakespeare’s famous visitors

As always with these things it is the small details that make all the difference.  I was fascinated to see an original window from Shakespeare’s birthplace had been covered with graffiti. Scratched into the glass were the names of famous writers, including Charles Dickens, John Keats and Walter Scott.  I also saw that famous visitors included several of my personal heroes, Mark Twain and Thomas Hardy.  We entered one of the bedrooms and the guide explained that this was the room where Shakespeare was actually born.  I looked out of the window and wondered if the view today is much the same.  Apart from the gift shops, I suspected that it was.

Living Shakespeare in the garden

The Birthplace Trust work hard to make this a ‘living museum’, with the staff all dressed in costumes of the time.  It was when we found our way to the garden that this really came true for me, as there was a live performance by RSC actors, with visitors from around the world joining in.  I am sure William would have approved.

Excavations at New Place

The high spot of our visit was a complete surprise.  After a good lunch at one of the lively riverside restaurants, we asked for directions and found New Place.  We nearly didn’t bother, although it was where Shakespeare lived for most of his life and died in 1616, the guide book said it had been demolished soon after and was now the garden of a different house. We found, however, that the garden is now the site of a major ’Dig for Shakespeare’ and new finds were being made as we watched. The foundations of New Place can now be clearly seen and the Dig is planned to continue throughout 2011.

Shakespeare’s tomb at Holy Trinity Church

We finished off our day in Stratford-upon-Avon with a visit to Shakespeare’s tomb. In a beautiful riverside park, the church is used for services so we had to wait for one to finish.  It was well worth it though, as we were able to see that it is not a myth.  His tomb really does bear the inscription "Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, To digg the dust encloased heare, Bleste be the man that spares thes stones, And curst be he that moves my bones."

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