It’s funny how the name of a place can mean so much – like Stratford-upon-Avon. Why, simply the name of this town conjures up thoughts and words of the famous bard hailing from the place. Of course, I’m talking about William Shakespeare; a name universally known and who’s works are played and studied around the world. I never realized before today how close the world could have been to not knowing his works, what with Shakespeare having been born at a time when the Plague was, well, plaguing Stratford.
The Shakespeare family hails from humble beginnings, Williams’s father John being a glove maker. His business was a successful one, however, and Shakespeare grew up in one of the nicest houses in Stratford; a house which I was fortunate enough to walk through today. The tour began not in the house but a modern building near it, where they set you up for viewing the house. These three rooms were done very theatrically, which is fitting. They had a few artifacts from the town and/or Shakespeare – well, possibly ( “There is reason to believe these belonged to…”) – and had a video clip with voice over in each room, describing Shakespeare’s life and celebrating his vast collection and the influence his works continue to have in the world today.
You then find yourself in the gardens behind the house where a short path takes you in through a side door. There are workers in period clothing in each section of the house giving information on the room they are stationed at. You walk into a small welcome room, then there is one bedroom beyond that, serving as the guest room. The third and final room downstairs is the work room where John and his apprentice made gloves.
A little aside about the gloves here. Back then, everyone had a good pair of gloves who could afford it. Gloves were custom made to fit each hand individually, unlike today, and made from leather. All kinds of animal skins would be used, which might dictate how high end your pair of gloves were. Sometimes, even the dog was used! Worry not dog lovers, the guide at this room put it like this: say the much-loved family dog dies one day. You mourn him, then your father takes him over to the glove maker where he can now afford a pair of gloves for each family member, and thus your dog is with the family forever. You can even take him on the same walks you always used to!
This guy also delighted in telling us about rabbit skin collars. Apparently, recently skinned rabbits would be sewed together and sold to customers. The customer, who most likely was suffering from some nasty bug bites would wear the collar to distract those pesky bugs. The bugs would find the fresh rabbit hide to be much more appetizing, and so bugs on the body would migrate up to the collar while any lice would leave the scalp and move down to the collar. Then, that night before bed the wearer would open the window and shake out the collar – and presumably have a better night sleep being less pestered. They might even sell the skins back to the glove maker who would use it in the lining of gloves. Eugh. But there you have it, flee collars. Now you’ll be able to pick that out it any old portraits featuring the stlye!
The family slept upstairs, children in the same room as their parents until they were old enough to properly hold a candle – you know, to prevent any “mom, dad…I accidentally burned the house down” incidents. The apprentice used the attic, the boys lived in the room which the staircase immediately opens into. While the girl’s room had a door for privacy, their room could get down to -10 degrees in the winter! One of the rooms is now used to give the history of the house and one of the most interesting things they have there is the original glass window from “the birth room”. Turns out that people have been writing their names on places of historical significance since at least 1806. But what’s neat about this window, and why it was saved, is that the signatures started with famous writers, actors, and other figures that went to honor Shakespeare by visiting his birth place. Among the signatures is Charles Dickens, who was one of the biggest proponents for making the house national site when it went on sale.
I was also very fortunate in that I happened to be in town during the weekend celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday (and death day, too, I suppose). We didn’t get there in time to see the parade, but there were still quite a few people dressed up and walking about. There were also groups performing at different spots around the town throughout the day. I even happened to stumble upon a market (I wonder if I’m developing “foodie senses”?) where I decided to get my lunch from. There was a stand cooking meat and selling different types of rolls, fresh. Many people were walking away with good looking food, and it seemed like one of those traditional British things I hadn’t yet tried.
So I decided to try the “hot pork roll” – though there were also sausage rolls, bacon rolls, and sausage and bacon rolls. The pork roll was a white roll cut open and stuffed, and I mean stuffed, with freshly cooked pork, stuffing, crackling (which I had to look up what it was when I got back – it’s pork rind), and then apple sauce. I proceeded back down the street to Bancroft gardens near the water where I sat and ate while some students in a steel drum group performed. All in all it was an enjoyable lunch, and while I’d probably go without the crackling next time I especially loved the apple sauce in the pork roll, and certainly walked away feeling stuffed. Even better was the fact that I managed to not spill anything on myself!
I also went and visited Holy Trinity Church, which is where Shakespeare, as well as some of his other family members, are buried. The church is small and more homely then many of the large cathedrals I saw over break. More than one Shakespeare marriage occurred in this church as well. The chancel where Shakespeare rests is beautiful and not overdone. The floor was covered in a display of flowers! It was very cool to behold, as well as touching to see the many flowers on the side placed by visitors to honor him.
With the Olympics happening in London this summer, Monday marked the start of the first ever World Shakespeare Festival. Throughout the summer England will be hosting plays and events honoring Shakespeare and including groups from all over the world, which is pretty neat! I’m very glad to have been able to check Stratford-upon-Avon off of my list of places to visit, and being there reminded me just how very much Shakespeare has added to the world. I’ve decided that I need to read more of his works, and I’d like to see some performed one day.
Shakespeare’s words will forever hold significance around the globe, stimulating thoughts and provoking discussion. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I would highly suggest checking his stuff out, it’s brilliant! Stratford-upon-Avon, too, is a place I would not hesitate to go back to again. But I should be letting you get on with your day now, I thank you for getting through another long post! Though I’ll leave you with a final thought: “They do not love that do not show their love”. National Poetry Month (in the States at least) is coming to a close so why not celebrate with writing a poem of your own. There’s a little bit of Shakespeare in all of us, after all, so express yourself! Tomorrow I will be spending the day in the Isle of Wight, which I’m looking forward to (though profusely hoping for no rain). Enjoy your Fridays and thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…