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I can’t remember the first time I read a Shakespeare play. But I do remember the first time I saw one. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by my local community theatre in California. In hindsight, I’m sure it wasn’t all that good. But to my young, 11-year-old brain, it was magic.
I grew up to be a theatre professional. So it’s no surprise that Shakespeare was part of my England itinerary. While most people include Shakespeare by simply enjoying a performance or two at the Globe Theatre in London (which, believe me, I did!), I felt like it was important to take it one step further. To Stratford-upon-Avon.
I jokingly called it a pilgrimage. Stratford-upon-Avon is just over 100 miles northwest of London. It is the birthplace and the final resting place of the man William Shakespeare. While it is a tiny town, since Shakespeare is just a little bit famous, there is plenty to do. Here is what I did in a day in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.
Patron the Holy Trinity Church
We don’t actually know the birthdate of Shakespeare. We do, however, know his baptism date and location (which also happens to the be the place that he is buried). Holy Trinity Church is stunning. The wooded cemetery that surrounds the church creates a quiet, peaceful scene. And the architecture of the church, inside and out, makes you feel like you have stepped into a sanctuary.
I just love this picture of me walking down the aisle.
At one end of the church is the registry book that records Shakespeare’s baptism, as well as the grave plots of him, his wife Anne Hathaway (not the actress), and their children.
I expected it to be like any other church we had entered with hundreds of graves inside. I was not prepared for the fairly sacred feeling I felt while standing in the nave with his tomb, with the sunlight streaming through the stained glass window. Maybe it was more of a pilgrimage for this theatre soul than I had actually believed. There are actually quotes in the church from famous actors, such as Dame Judi Dench, who talk about how Holy Trinity Church is a place of inspiration for artists. I totally understood what she meant.
Visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace
The house where Shakespeare was born is, by modern standards, fairly humble. The rooms are small, the floors are uneven, and the furniture is sparse. But it sets the mood. Guides dressed up in historical garb, as well as many placards on the walls, tell stories of life during Elizabethan England. You get a sense of Shakespeare’s childhood and the inspirations for many of his characters. You also understand why he left for London to make his fortune.
Roam Through Shakespeare’s New Place
Speaking of fortune, once Shakespeare made his name in London, he actually moved back to Stratford. He bought a large piece of land in the middle of town, built a fancy house, and proceeded to life out the last 10 years of his life in luxury. It is believed he continued to write, completing plays like The Tempest. The New Place is surrounded by a lovely garden, filled with artwork and sculptures influenced by his collection of plays. This one was my absolute favorite.
Sail Down the Avon
The Avon is a beautiful river that runs along the edge of the town (hence the name, Straford-UPON-Avon). Surrounded by rolling hills and filled with swans (perhaps inspiration for the name of Shakespeare’s first theatre?), the Avon is a picturesque scene. You can choose to sit out and feed the swans or take a lunch al fresco. There are also boats small and medium that go up and down, giving you a different perspective of the area. It is one of the loveliest ways to see Stratford.
Catch a Show
What is a trip to Stratford without seeing some actual Shakespeare? The Royal Shakespeare Company is one of Britain’s premiere theatre houses. Nestled on the banks of the Avon, they have a season that rotates through all of Shakespeare’s cannon, as well as some other works new and old. It’s even where (if you’ve read my post about Blenheim Palace) the play Queen Anne originated! We actually saw two shows, an evening performance of the traditional Julius Caesar and a matinee puppet performance of one of Shakespeare’s early poems, Venus and Adonis.
Go Down to the Farm
If you have some extra time, there are two options just outside of town. One is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, which showcases the original home of Shakespeare’s bride. The other (where we went) is Mary Arden’s Farm.
Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother, and the farm is full of activities that showcase life on the Elizabethan farm. While we were there, there were archery opportunities, a falcon show, and demonstrations of crafts such as basket weaving. You can even feed some of the animals!
Stay in a Bed and Breakfast
If you’re going to stay the night, try out one of the many charming Bed and Breakfast’s scattered throughout Stratford. The cottages are charming and are just a short walk from all the action. You’ll even get to try a full English breakfast in the morning!
All of the different historical sites are run by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. I highly recommend getting one of their passes, which gets you admission to all them for a discounted rate.
Acclaim and controversy shroud the life and career of William Shakespeare. Will you find insight and answers to this enigma in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon? Maybe. But no matter what, Stratford is a delightful step back into life during Elizabethan England. Even if you’re not a Shakespeare fan, you’ll be charmed by your surroundings. And if you are a Shakespeare fan, well, you will love the opportunity to soak in the town that created the man we believe wrote the most quoted collection of plays in the English language.
Go ahead. You can leave your favorite Shakespeare quote in the comments.
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Another great pin for my travel map!