I knew I couldn’t go to England without visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon. I have a masters degree in literature so to say I’m a Shakespeare fangirl is an understatement. I remember reading his plays during summer vacation as a teenager, watching the Leonardo DiCaprio film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (still the best in my opinion, sorry Franco Zeffirelli), and writing soooo many papers in college and grad school. Needless to say I wanted to see everything we possibly could in a day. And we did. We bought the triple Shakespeare ticket that included his mother’s farm, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and his birthplace. We also bought tickets to see King Lear preformed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
We started the day at Mary Arden’s farm.
Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother. Her family was relatively well-off. Not rich, but comfortable. They had tenant farmers, so they must have owned a fair amount of land. Mary inherited the farm when her father died which I find interesting since she was the youngest of eight sisters. When she married Shakespeare’s father it was her decision, and she likely brought a lot to the marriage (financially). Definitely a 16th century independent lady!
(where the servant girls slept, check out the chamber pot!)
The farm is a sprawling place, so there was a lot of ambling around. There was a blacksmith on duty, a falconner, and ducks, pigs, and rabbits. You could easily spend all day here.
Next up was Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
Our tour guide was quick to point out that the original cottage was only two rooms (the portion hidden by the trees). The rest of the cottage came in additions throughout the following centuries. I think we can all agree that the thatched roof steals the show though!
Example of a typical rope bed where the mattress is support by ropes. And yes, there was some serious sagging. So much so that most Tudors slept sitting up. Contrary to the popular belief that Shakespeare leaving Anne his second best bed was a snub, it was actually quite romantic. The second best bed was usually the marriage bed (the best bed being for guests).
We went to Stratford on a Monday bank-holiday, so it was busy. But the crowds couldn’t take away from the beauty of Stratford. As you can see, a lot of the shops are Tudor style buildings. Like with any English holiday town, there were lots of kiosks and stands selling ice creams and cakes, not to mention tea rooms.
Once we got oriented, our first stop was Shakespeare’s birthplace. Where else?!
There were so many people here. Its kind of amazing I was able to get this clear shot of the front. Its understandably touristy these days. You walk through a lot of museum-like displays before you get inside the house.
Shakespeare’s family was of the middling sort (what historians call the middle class at this time). This dining room isn’t fancy, but it isn’t lacking in any necessities. I guess even having a separate room to dine in would put you into a higher class.
In my opinion, nothing speaks to Shakespeare’s family’s financial state better than this bedroom. First of all, there’s a good bed with colorful hangings. Second are the paper wall coverings, a nice, albeit cheaper way, to spruce up a Tudor bedroom.
After all this site-seeing we were starving. I was really in the mood for an English pub meal. We stumbled upon the Garrick Inn.
I had a steak and ale pie, and yes it came with chips and peas, what else? This pub, as with so many establishments in England is several hundred years old and looked really cool inside.
What English Lit. graduate worth their salt would pass up an opportunity to visit the Church of the Holy Trinity, Shakespeare’s burial place? Not this one. It was a bit of a walk, and we barely made it before it closed, but it was worth it. Its practically a place of pilgrimage.
Check out that epitaph. I mean, can we say baller? Being poetic even when dead. To get this close to the grave you have to give a “voluntary” donation, though access to the church itself is free.
We ended the day by seeing King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare theater. Sir Antony Sper was playing Lear and he was fantastic. Truly a masterful performance. Perfect end to a great day!
Have you read about our adventures in the Cotswolds?