All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. (As you like it, Shakespeare)
I have always been and will always be, inshaallah, a language and literature enthusiasts. My first love was Malay Literature (hence my long academic affair with Sastera, from O to A levels) but thanks to a particular Literature teacher back in secondary 2 in BPGHS, I fell in love with English Literature! One of his lessons that has a lasting impact was that of Macbeth, of which he acted out this particular line with so much zeal and passion:
“Come to my woman’s breasts; And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers; Wherever in your sightless substances; You wait on nature’s mischief.” (Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 5)
Trust me, I still remember it clearly even though it’s been what, 9 years?!
Anyway, Stratford-upon-Avon was one of the many trips that I’ve signed up for with the International Society, an independent, not-for-profit organisation unique to Greater Manchester, which organises trips around the UK for students. I thought it was apt to kickstart my UK travels with the birthplace of the man who has left such a lasting impression on the world of English Literature!
– Ok bear with me, this post is going to be picture-heavy. There’ll be more than 100 photos!-
It was a beautiful day, alhamdulillah, with the sun shining brightly and the sky ever so clear, I couldn’t have asked for a better day to visit! Trust me, it was a huge relief to get out of gloomy Manchester. After a while, you just need the sun y’know… Although you should never let the sun deceive you about the temperature. It was still super cold!
One of the first things visitors can expect, and most definitely notice, in Stratford is the immense influence Shakespeare has in the town. Shakespeare is everywhere. There are memorials, statues, sculptures and buildings which exist by virtue of his legacy. Large amounts of money were pumped into the town by wealthy (American) merchants to uphold his memory and to ensure that the town (and his legacy) stays alive. In fact, the first thing that greets you when you enter the town is the Gower Memorial:
This statue, showing Shakespeare seated, is flanked by life-size statues of Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal, Hamlet, Henry V, and Falstaff, representing Tragedy, History, Philosophy and Comedy respectively. The memorial was sponsored by Lord Ronald Sutherland -Gower, who presented it to the town of Stratford in 1888. (Yes, I took notes. :P)
Of course I had to take a picture with Lady Macbeth!
Speaking of sculptures… There are many sculptures around Stratford-upon-Avon, so much so that I’d say it’s worth a scavenger hunt to go and find all of them! Most of these sculptures are related to Shakespeare’s characters and were donated to the town as a token of friendship or commemoration of the Bard. My favourite after the Gower Memorial is the Jester.
I really liked this one firstly, because of how it looks and secondly, because of the inscription on it:
O noble fool, a worthy fool – The fool doth think he is wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
Apt inscription, don’t you think? 🙂
In the middle of town, by the river Avon, there’s a Swan Fountain. C’mon, everyone loves swans! 😛
There’s a collection of really cool sculptures in one of the Shakespeare’s properties but I’ll get to that later.
The trip was a free-and-easy one so I pretty much had the whole day to explore the place myself. I’d done some research prior so I decided to go on a guided walking tour. I believe it’s always good to start off with a guided tour in these kinda places that are steep with history, culture and character cos you’ll always learn more that way, as compared to wandering around on your own with a map from the get go.
I was guided by a lady named Grace, whose witty sense of humour made the 2.5hours walking tour very enjoyable. I’d say it was definitely £4 well spent! I learnt a lot of the history of the town per se and the role Shakespeare had played in its livelihood. We made a few stops along the way, including this stunning church where Shakespeare is laid to rest, 17 feet under.
The architecture is absolutely breathtaking and the open graveyard just ups the cool-factor for me.
It costs about £2 to enter the chancel and view his grave but I’d passed on that. I didn’t really think it was worth the money. I’m a fan but I’m not a fanatic, so no thank you.
Along the way, we walked along the river and arrived at this spot which honestly, just took my breath away.
The sky, the bend in the river, the church’s silhouette… Everything just added up to be quite a view. ❤
Managed to take a picture with Grace at the end of the tour and pardon the contracted face, I was shivering in the cold! I’d accidentally left my gloves in the bus so my poor hands were practically numb! 😦
After heading back to the bus to grab my gloves and having a banana for lunch (yay to budgeting!), I trudged forth for my very own sightseeing of the place! There’s an eclectic mix of buildings here, with varying influences and styles. Of course I became trigger happy! 😛
The tour with the International Society included entry passes to 3 of the Shakespeare properties so off I went!
William Shakespeare grew up here and he played here. He ate meals in the hall and he slept and dreamed in these rooms. Shakespeare also spent the first five years of married life in this house with his new wife, Anne Hathaway. Well-known visitors have included Charles Dickens, John Keats, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy.
The house stayed in the Shakespeare family for a couple of generations before it eventually came to an end. In the mid-19th century, a wealthy American wanted to buy the house and ship it brick-by-brick to the US but the great writers of the day, including Charles Dickens, opposed the idea, set up the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (which eventually became Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) and bought the house, restoring it and making it a museum.
The Birthplace recreates a picture of family life at the time of Shakespeare complete with period domestic furnishings, a glass window inscribed with the signatures of visitors to the house over the centuries, and John Shakespeare’s glove making workshop.
Nash’s House & New Place
Nash’s House was named after Thomas Nash, first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, and a wealthy local property owner. Next door to Nash’s House are the foundations of New Place. This was the house bought by William Shakespeare in 1597. By the late 1590s, Shakespeare was an established playwright and had amassed enough wealth to afford a new family home. New Place was the second biggest house in Stratford at the time and it was where Shakespeare lived when he was not in London. He wrote some of his greatest works at this time. He died here in 1616.
The actual site of New Place, which just a few months earlier, was the site of an archeology project which aimed to find out as much as possible about Shakespeare!
Nash’s House and New Place has a spectacular garden. I can only imagine how beautiful it’ll be during spring or summer.
There’s a collection of scupltures around the garden, named the Shakespeare Sculptures by Greg Wyatt. There are eight Shakespearean statues that evoke The Tempest, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry IV, Part 2, and Macbeth. Here are some that caught my eye:
Hall’s Croft (House of Shakespeare’s daughter)
Love the sundial!
Along the way, I’d passed by the school which supposedly, Shakespeare attended. In those times, only sons of merchants attended school, since the aristocrats are all home-schooled and the lower classes don’t attend school at all. William Shakespeare’s dad was at one time, the mayor of the town, so he had the opportunity to attend school.
Oh and another fun fact! Did you know that John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University, was also born in Stratford-upon-Avon?
The house with the flagpole on it – that’s where he was born! What a coincidence. 🙂
Besides anything remotely Shakespeare, I’ve got to say, Stratford-upon-Avon is beautiful in its own right. The buildings are lovely, the scenery phenomenal. So if you know, you’re thinking of going with someone who’s not so much a Shakespeare enthusiast, you can convince them that it’s worth the trip! 😛
After all the walking, I took a breather and ate scones at a quaint cafe.
How English. 😛
And of course, the grand finale.
Phew, this entry took a while. 😛
Thank you Stratford-upon-Avon for being a gracious host and giving me such an eye-opening experience. You’re a fantastic opener for my travels, alhamdulillah! 🙂
I hope you’ve enjoyed this long entry! If you’re a literature enthusiast like me, perhaps you can consider going to this little town if you ever happen to be in UK! Till the next time, leave a comment, have a great day and live your life! ❤