Arthur, Lynn and I took a trip to Stratford Upon Avon yesterday to see some of the buildings tied into William Shakespeare’s history as well as to compare it against Stratford,ON. I don’t have many pictures because the weather was supposed to be bad and I didn’t want my camera to get wet. Luckily, the rain held off for the most part in the end.
The similarities between Stratford Upon Avon, England and Stratford, ON, Canada are limited to the following:
- there’s a river
- there are swans in said river
- there’s a big theatre presence
- they’re both touristy towns
And that’s about it. Lynn was asking if Stratford, ON had tried to mimic the look of any of the old buildings or anything like that, but they haven’t. If you want to get technical, they’re not even called the same thing because England’s Stratford is officially Stratford Upon Avon and the Stratford in Canada is just “Stratford”.
Just to set you in the right time zone, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616. Will’s birthdate is unknown, but it was some time between April 23-26, as he was baptized on April 26th, 1564. He died on April 23rd, quite possibly his birthday.
First we saw Shakespeare’s Birthplace. One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of these statements like “Shakespeare’s birthplace” are educated guesses based on the times and situation (the Shakespeare family lived here, so it’s likely that Will was born here), but there’s not actually any solid proof or evidence that this is how it happened. That being said, most historians believe and agree on these statements. I really enjoyed hearing what the actors dressed up in costume had to say about the place. I always find these places more interesting when there is someone there to tell you something about it. We spent a long time chatting with a man who was playing bagpipes out in the garden. He wasn’t blowing into it though, he had a pump strapped under his arm that he would use to blow air into the bag. He said the instrument lasts much longer that way, since you’re not blowing spit and who knows what else into the bag all the time. We also had a few of Shakespeare’s speeches and sonnets performed for us by an actor that was in the gardens of the house. It’s impressive how much she had memorized and could quote on demand. She was limited to speeches and sonnets because she was there alone. Had there been another actor there with her, she said they could’ve done scenes as well.
One thing I was particularly interested in was learning about Shakespeare’s family tree. Other than Anne Hathaway (Will’s wife, not the modern day actor), I didn’t know anything about his family or life in general. I won’t go into lots of details, but there are no direct descendants of the Shakespeare family. Will married at age 18 and had three children (one daughter Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith). Will only had one grandchild (Elizabeth), and she never had any children. All of William’s brothers were bachelors and never married.
We then saw Harvard House, which was a let down, although (almost) understandably. New Place and Nash, Will’s house that he lived in with Anne and later died in, is currently undergoing renovations so not open to the public. So the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust opened Harvard House as a replacement (people can buy all-access tickets for the 5 buildings owned by the SBT). I’m not even sure what the relationship to the Harvard family and Shakespeare was, but it is the Harvard related to Harvard University.
The next stop was Hall’s Croft, the home of John Hall and Susanna Shakespeare, Will’s eldest child. It was impressive and interesting, again, because there were guides around to tell you about the place. The building has a number of exterior supports because someone did renovations some time ago without thinking about things like supporting walls and roof trusses. The attic is now filled with supports to help hold the house together. There was also a strange tree with concrete covering the base in the garden. I didn’t quite catch the reasoning for that. The tree doesn’t look very alive.
Our last stop in the center of town was Holy Trinity Church, where Will, Anne, John and Susanna are buried. Apparently Will’s grave has been disturbed around the head area, and his skull is missing. The church also had an impressive organ, with a number of the pipes in a wooden case mounted high on the wall.
We then journeyed out a bit to see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. It was the house where Anne grew up, although it looks much different that it did when she lived there. Currently 12 rooms, the house was only two rooms when Anne lived there. It’s called Anne’s ‘Cottage’ because that’s thought to be more romantic than the former ‘Hewland Farms’ name. It’s surrounded by quite a bit of gardens and land. Unfortunately at this time of year there wasn’t much to see, but I can imagine what it would look like in the spring and summer. They did have these cool willow tree structures that you could sit under.
We’re going to go back to Stratford when I’m in Coventry next to visit Mary Arden’s farm, the former house of Shakespeare’s mother. We figured we would wait for a day that had better weather to go back and see the farm. We briefly stopped by the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre. There was a big poster of David Tennant as Richard II which caused a little bit of an internal fan girl moment. We might go see Hamlet when I’m back if the timing works out.