Wednesday, August 13, 2014

July 1: Stratford-upon-Avon

Today’s trip was a special one for me, especially as a former English major: Stratford-upon-Avon, a beautiful, magical town that produced truly one of the most significant writers who ever lived, William Shakespeare.

The sights and indeed the smells in Stratford were glorious yet so simple: the town needed no extra adornment, no castles or material extravagances; the pervasive scent of roses and the plain yet lovely architecture were adornment enough. The town is small, yet the streets are populated with a wide array of shops and vendors and even musicians, all of which contribute to Stratford’s charm.

As if such a setting were not enough, the town itself glows with history; for me, walking the streets and knowing Shakespeare lived and walked here, too, was most thrilling. Walking through Stratford on a clear summer day left little wonder as to where Shakespeare derived his inspiration.

The first site I visited was Shakespeare’s birthplace, which has been restored over the years, leaving the 
floor as the only truly “authentic” portion of the house where Shakespeare was born and raised. The house charges a steep fee to visit, so I chose instead to stand outside the home taking pictures, drinking in the scenery and importance of this location. Looking on this modest house and knowing it sheltered Shakespeare was…frankly, there are no words with sufficient oomph to articulate my feelings.

I had a similar feeling of bewildered awe while taking the Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour with a new friend named Sarah. The bus tour ventured through twelve locations pertinent to Shakespeare’s life, including his birthplace, church, what is now the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and Anne Hathaway’s cottage (among other places). I took a few hundred 
pictures that day and far too many to display here. While on this tour and later visiting Shakespeare’s church and seeing his grave, I continuously felt awestruck and reverential. Shakespeare's church houses the baptismal font used at his christening, his birth and death notices, and both his and Anne Hathaway’s graves. It is truly remarkable to see the humble beginnings from which Shakespeare ascended, especially with his significance held in perspective.

Another place we visited that was not of historical significance but certainly one of importance was Stratford-upon-Avon’s public library. A group of us walked down a lovely street to get there, and the walk was majestic. The exterior of the library tried to maintain a Tudor-esque architectural style, which was a visually pleasing touch. From the outside, it is just as quaint as the rest of the town. When we went inside, however, I was disappointed to see how few books were in the library. As you can see their library is rather barren.

These pictures you see are the only books I saw. Bear in mind this is the library in SHAKESPEARE'S hometown. I was aghast and could not help wondering what Shakespeare would think of this library. Fortunately, this venture did give me an idea for my research paper. The library's setting itself was lovely, though, and it did seem to be a charming place to study. That being said, I did feel confused by the lack of books there. Anyway, this was my only complaint about Stratford. 

One of my favorite events of the day, however, was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry IV, Part I, which you can read about here. Admittedly, 1 Henry IV (prior to that evening) was not my favorite Shakespeare play; I actually did not care for it when I read it in college. This production, however, has changed my mind. Everything about it - the acting, the sets, the costumes, the music - was fantastic! I was very impressed with the production value. The opening itself absorbed the audience (okay, me) into the story immediately. The lights went out, leaving the entire theater completely dark. Then, some gravid choral music accompanied by heavy bass began, building the tension. The only light for the first few minutes was candles as what appeared to be monks slowly entered the stage. As more light appeared, one could make out King Henry lying prostrate on the floor. What we were witnessing was Henry's ordination, and the Royal Shakespeare Company made it enthralling to watch. I mention this scene because it really drew me in to the play. The rest of the production maintained the same level of excellence: the drama was sad, the comedy hilarious, and the fight scenes well-choreographed. Indeed, the final battles, full of sword fighting, were almost like a dance; I was impressed no one lost a limb!

The ride home was long, and by the time we returned to King's College, it was about 1:30 in the morning. I was exhausted, but so happy. As you can tell from this post, the visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was beyond my favorite and was full of memories I will treasure for the rest of my life. While maybe not on this trip, eventually I do want to return to Stratford for an extended period of time. So far, it is still my favorite part of the UK. 

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