English Day Trip: Stratford-Upon-Avon

Back after my three week tour around Europe in 2008, I was staying in London for an extra 10 days with one of my friends who happened to be living there at the time. We’d met the year prior while he was traveling from Australia through New York City before getting to London, but we became fast friends and he said I was more than welcome to stay at his flat for as long as I wanted to. I took him up on that and we’re still friends to this day.

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Almost everything is named in reference to Shakespeare or one of his works. 

While I was staying at his flat in Wandsworth, I decided to catch a bus from Victoria Station (I think?) and spend a day in Stratford-Upon-Avon, also known as William Shakespeare’s birth place. When I studied abroad in 2007 in London, one of my classes was Shakespeare and it was in that class that I truly learned how to appreciate the Bard and love his work. I’d even obtained a (reprinting, obviously) of the entire Folio for Christmas. Stratford-Upon-Avon was only a couple of hours outside London and the bus ticket was cheap, so off I went early one morning.

Row boats named after female characters from Shakespeare’s plays. 

I got off the bus in the town and it was very cute. It’s a little touristy, as you might imagine, because every single thing is named after something Shakespeare-related, but why would you open a store there and not call it Ophelia’s? I first visited the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s theatres. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be there long enough to see anything, but I’m glad I visited them.

On the left is the Swan Theatre on the site of what was once the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre which burned down in 1926. The Swan Theatre underwent a massive 100 million GBP renovation since I was there that included adding a rooftop restaurant and public spaces. The Courtyard Theatre (right) temporarily replaced the The Other Place when the renovations were in progress. The Courtyard Theatre opened in 2006 and it was used as a replacement for The Other Place until the renovated theatres re-opened in 2011. The decision was made to keep the structure in place, even though it’s no longer in use.

Then there is The Other Place. I’m not sure why I was allowed inside during the renovations (perhaps they were still giving tours), but there’s the inside of it. Shakespeare in it’s best format: a thrust stage.

Next up I went to Holy Trinity Church. Although Shakespeare’s birth date is not officially known, they did keep records of baptisms back then and based on that date, they were able to estimate his birthday being around April 23rd. I usually refuse to pay to enter into churches, but I forked over a few GBP for this one.

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The people at Holy Trinity Church knew what people were there to see (hence the sign). Unfortunately, because of my crappy camera, all I have is this one semi-blurry photo of his grave site (middle) and a dark photo of his wife’s, Anne Hathaway, grave.

Thank goodness for the church and record keeping, right? 😉

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Next stop: the house that Shakespeare was allegedly born.

After that I finally made my way to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. This is where she and William lived until he moved to London.

And finally, I visited The Shakespeare Center to see what’s commonly referred to as the “First Folio.” The First Folio was printed in 1623 by two of Shakespeare’s colleagues, John Hemiges and Henry Condell. It contains the original texts for 36 of his plays (all but 5). It is known as the only reliable text for how his plays were originally written and performed. Because his plays are in the public domain, they are often edited and changed. If you want to perform the original text in it’s full glory, you have to turn to the Folio.

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An estimated 750 copies were originally printed and today there are 256 copies believed to still be in circulation. The Folio is commonly called one of the most valuable books in the world. One copy was sold at auction for over six million dollars at auction in 2001. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC has the most copies anywhere – 82. I also saw one on display years ago at the library at Yale University, but I don’t think it was a permanent installation.

Anyways, you get it. This is a very important book.

It was a full day of Shakespearian history and I loved every second of it. If I could go back, I would see a show at the Swan or The Other Place. If you have a free day in London, and you love the Bard like I do, hop on a bus at Victoria Station and spend a day here.

 

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