Shakespeare Geek in Stratford : The Wedding Bond

I know my kids trust me.  I know this because, when we first began planning a once in a lifetime trip to Shakespeare’s birthplace, I told them, “Hey listen. We’re all going to pile uncomfortably into a tiny car with a stranger who is going to drive us an hour out of town to see some cool stuff.”

“What kind of cool stuff?” they’d inquire.  “How cool? It must be very cool indeed.”

“Tis, indeed, very cool,” I would tell them. “We’re going to see … a piece of paper.”

“A what now?”

Fast forward to Wednesday and we are indeed cruising along in Jonathan’s car, my son in the trunk (trying to decide whether to make “Help me!” faces to the other cars, I learned later), heading off to see the magical piece of paper known as Shakespeare’s wedding bond.  Along the way we find plenty of stuff to chat about – he’s just been to Denmark and visited Kronborg Castle (aka the setting for Hamlet). We talk about American sports, we touch briefly on politics. I’m trying to keep the conversation less about Shakespeare and more social, so my wife and kids aren’t completely left out.

And suddenly we’re there!  We’re a bit early to meet our contact, so we stop for a coffee and see if we can’t get in to the actual church

 

But alas we cannot.  However I soon discover that the cool stuff is outside, because look who is there to greet us!

How many likenesses of Anne Hathaway do you know of, like, at all?  I know of that one poorly drawn sketch that, as far as I can tell, has only ever been used to say “She wasn’t really an attractive woman.”  So how pleased was I to find a depiction of Will and Anne together?  They even look happy.  Later when I arrived home and showed a coworker this picture he asked when the statue was made, and honestly at the time it never even occurred to me to wonder.  I’m sure it’s not original, it wouldn’t be out in the middle of the street if it had any historical significance. I just like that it exists. So few people think to ever put Shakespeare together with his wife.

Finally it is time and we head into the library and down into the archives (I love getting to go through secure doors and down passageways that only light up when we walk into them!) where we meet Jonathan’s friend Gillian Roberts, Keeper of Shakespearean Treasures…

And just like that, there’s that magical mystical piece of paper I’ve been telling my kids about.  I mean, sure, it’s a whole book of pieces of paper that are no doubt very exciting to the folks researching this area of history. But I’m reminded of the time I wrote a technical magazine article and then took a copy to show my mother.  She stared at it for awhile until, amused, I said, “Can you understand a word of it?”  She said, “I only need to see two words, your name. I’m just looking at that.”

I know the feeling.  Like I always say, I’m here for the Shakespeare.  Here, let me blow it up for you. Halfway down the left page, toward the center:

I am no doubt using the terminology incorrectly in explaining what we’re looking at, so here’s a link to Shakespeare Documented that explains it better What we see here is the entry in the Bishop’s register that famously misspells Anne Hathaway’s name as “Whateley.”  Although there is a Whateley earlier in the register and it’s easy to think that the Bishop just got confused, it also says she’s from Temple Grafton, and nobody knows where that came from.

This is the picture that I’ve been showing people, because it was right there out in the open for us to get up close to (I have pictures with my kids all around it, too).  Also because you can read it.  However, it’s not the only document in the room, or even the most important one.  The actual marriage bond is sitting right next to it, framed and under glass…

The bond (again, see Shakespeare Documented) was the document that there were no reasons why William and Anne should not be married, and, if it turned out later that there were, then the Bishop would not be held responsible or accountable. Unfortunately, it is very hard to read, at least to my layman’s eyes, so without a magnifying glass and my face an inch from the paper I can’t really “feel” this one like the register, you know what I mean?

What of the actual license?  It is lost to history, I’m afraid.  They have on display this book:

Which, if I understood correctly, is where the license *would* have been – but if you can read the header, you’ll see the dates jump from 1577 to 1584. Shakespeare was married in 1582.

When trying to explain the significance of this to my family the best example I could use was, “Imagine we had a chance to go see the Declaration of Independence. Not passing by it in a line like a thousand people do all day to take a picture of it at a distance under glass as we stream past, but to actually be invited into the room, by ourselves, and to be so close and take your pictures so close you could touch it.  The book on the table behind you is two hundred years older than that. So yeah, when you get back to school and your friends are telling you all about their trip to Aruba, you know that thousands and thousands of people get to go to Aruba, but do you know how many people get to do the kind of stuff you’re getting to do?  Pretty much nobody.”

Our hosts, perhaps wondering if this was indeed an exciting treasure to show three teenagers, began rifling through other chests looking for even more cool things to show while we were here.  Who wants a walk through the history plays? Check out the letters and royal seals of Henry V, Henry VIII, Edward VI and James I!

It was odd seeing Henry V’s name out of context (so to speak). I want to go put it in italics just out of habit. You always hear stories about James I, or Henry VIII.  But Henry V I really only know from Shakespeare, so there’s that parallel universe thing your brain does where it says “Oh, whoa, he was a real guy.”  As if a fictional character just stood there in front of you.

On the way out I handed Shakespeare Geek stickers to my new friends Jonathan and Gillian.  I know Jonathan reads the blog, but I have promised to followup with Gillian when these posts go up.  Hi, Gillian! Thanks for the visit and the special access, it was amazing!

We wrap up the afternoon with a walking tour of some of the more historic buildings in Worcestershire and say farewell to Jonathan, with a promise that if he finds himself in America any time soon we will do our best to return the favor. He then presents me with a parting gift!  Which makes me feel a little silly for handing out stickers :), but what can I do about it now?  But the story of his gift is a story for another post.

It was a pleasure meeting you Jonathan! I hope our paths cross again in the future! Thanks infinitely much for making this happen (and for the gift!), especially with my family in tow. I joke about the awkwardness of lugging my teenagers around to see these things they don’t understand (when they’d rather be in Aruba), but I can tell you the price of a trip like that just by searching Expedia.  A trip like this?  Priceless.

 

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Shakespeare Geek in Stratford : A Mysterious Stranger

We finished up Tuesday night by finding exactly where New Place and Hall’s Croft were, because those would be our next stops.  I kept forgetting about the school, because it’s not one of the ticketed “five houses of Shakespeare,” so I have to keep reminding myself not to miss it – usually right as we pass it and say “Oh yeah, the school, we need to do that.”

While we’re in the neighborhood, though, we do pop in to the Guild Chapel, which I wouldn’t otherwise have known about had social media not told me is a must see. And what did I find?  Oh, just a stained glass window of Shakespeare’s father.  Wasn’t expecting that! That’s him on the right. Note the coat of arms.

I ended Tuesday night with an email to my mysterious pal Jonathan, still without any real plan, who basically said, “Call me tomorrow morning.”  My phone hasn’t been out of airplane mode for days because I have no idea how to deal with the whole international roaming thing, and we still have literally no plan about what’s going to happen, but we’ll figure that out tomorrow. I’m caught between wanting to go see cool Shakespeare stuff, and the crazy sounding argument I’m making to my wife that, now that we’re in a foreign country, we should pile the whole family into a car with a stranger and let him drive us to an unknown destination.  Like I said, I’ll deal with that tomorrow!

On to New Place!  Which we’re way too early for, it’s not open yet. While we’re waiting I get to do a little research and learn some of those “I probably should have known this” facts – this is going to be a “Here’s where New Place used to be” exhibit, and not the actual New Place. Makes sense, I suppose. But I have to explain this to the fam.  Sometimes we’re looking at the actual Shakespeare-age stuff (like at Anne Hathaway’s cottage), but here it’ll be more like going in to a museum where we see stuff *about* that stuff.

I’ve got a mission, though – I’m looking for the ring.  Before I ever left for the trip, and knowing that I would get a chance to snoop around the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collection, I asked Bardfilm what I should ask for.  “Ask if you can try on the ring,” he told me.  This is the man who told me, when I first went to the Folger Library in Washington D.C., to ask if I could see Folio #1.  I did, and I did. 🙂  So I did ask about the ring, but Chris told me that the ring is, in fact, on display at New Place.  And here I was!

The garden at New Place is adorned with some beautiful statues that I’d love to show here, but I’ve got so many pictures of so many statues that I’m planning a separate post with just those.  But here’s a taste:

They actually did offer a tour, and I would have loved to hear more about the significance of these pieces, but we were on a fairly tight timeline.

Navigating New Place is a bit like one of those first-person adventure games, for Shakespeare Geeks. You’re in a twisty maze of passages, all alike. You turn a corner and then bam! Treasure!

I walk into a room and come face to face with a Cobbe Portrait.  “Well sure,” I say, “Makes sense, this is Stanley Wells country, of course they have a Cobbe…” and then I realize, “Holy cow that’s *the* Cobbe Portrait!” I’m not sure I really understand how art works, because apparently I think that one museum gets to have an original and anybody else who might also want to show that just has some sort of copy? Like in the gift shop?  I’m not always smart.

And for those that missed it when I Tweeted this picture, Bardfilm asked me whether that was maize adorning the edges of the frame.  I confirmed that it appeared to be, yes.  “Interesting,” said Bardfilm.  “Corn on the Cobbe.”  This is why I hang out with him, because I constantly have to repay him for puns like that.

I also spotted this cartoon on the wall, which makes me realize that SBT is a bit in on the whole “That looks nothing like Shakespeare” joke.

(If you can’t read it, Shakespeare’s holding up a sign that says “More hair please, and prettier.”)

And speaking of treasure … my precious!

For some reason that even surprised me, this turned out to be the item that I really just stopped and stared at, transfixed, almost as long as I stood at the grave on our first day. Something about the direct connection.  If you don’t know the story, this “signet ring” was found in 1810 near Holy Trinity Church. Although true provenance is impossible, it’s indeed quite possible that this was William Shakespeare’s personal ring that he perhaps lost outside the church. Intriguingly, we do know that Shakespeare altered his will, crossing out “seal” and writing “signature” – had he lost his ring?  In a way it’s very much like other “could have been, but we’ll never know” objects, like the second best bed we saw earlier. True, but there’s something about that W.S. that just makes it feel more real.

Time is getting away from us!  As we’re heading outside I remember that my phone is still in airplane mode and I’m supposed to be calling Jonathan with an update.  I figure out how to turn it on, and see several missed calls.  I get in touch and it turns out he’s here in town, but doesn’t want to intrude on our family plans, so to call him when we’re done.  I tell him that we’ve just got the school to see and we’re good!

My mistake.  I thought, all this time, that the school was more like a church – walk in, no ticket, take some pictures of a historic building and say “Yup, this is where Shakespeare went to school” and we’re done.  Wrong.  In a hurry now I stand in whatever line had formed, pay for my ticket, then suddenly we’re waiting. But we waited at Anne Hathaway’s, too, and that was more just an introduction and “You’re on your own” so this could have been that.  Nope!  We’re whisked into a room to watch a movie.  Egads.  Interesting, sure, but not what we thought we would be doing. Before you know it, though, we do get to go upstairs where we find ourselves in Latin lessons?  I do get a kick out of this, having taken Latin as my foreign language back in the day, so when the teacher says “Salvete pueri!” (hello, boys) from instinct I respond, “Salve magister!” (hello, teacher!)

Apparently there are two classrooms, and the children will eventually be taken to the other side where they’ll get to write with quill pens.  Sounds amusing but, again, not really why we came.  I sneak over to take a picture.

Just then my phone rings. It’s Jonathan wondering where we are, and saying that he’ll meet us at the school.  I make the necessary sign to my family and we sneak out.

I ask the woman who originally sold us our tickets whether, if we had time, we might be able to come back and let the kids do the quill pen thing.  She says sure, and tells me that she thinks somebody is here to see me.  I turn around and finally, after something like eight months in the works, I’ve met my first international Shakespeare friend.

Heading outside for proper introductions and to get out of the way of the crowd, I introduce my wife and geeklets.  Although I’ve run this blog literally since before one of them was born, it’s easy to still envision them as elementary school size when in fact my two oldest are as tall as me, and my boy is coming up fast.  Jon asks what we want to do, and I ask if the marriage bond offer is still on the table.  I’ve talked about it with the family, and while my wife is still mind boggled at this craziness, the kids are on board the “We’re here for you, Daddy, so if this is what you want to go see, let’s do this!” bandwagon.  The problem remains that his car is quite small.  I insist that we’re willing to squish, at least to give it a try. If it can’t happen it can’t happen, but we have to try.  I’m also half thinking that if it doesn’t work I’m not quite sure what the backup plan is, as we’ve seen all the touristy stuff and I’m sure Jonathan has as well. So short of “Let’s go get some lunch” I don’t know how we might justify the time for him to have come all the way out here.

We start the trek to where he parked (it’s not always easy to find parking here!) and he steers us past a random Puck statue that I didn’t realize existed!

I love that this town is just randomly sprinkled with Shakespeare stuff.  I could spend days here just finding it all.

Eventually we arrive at his indeed quite small car.  He pops open the hatchback, moving around some blankets, and says, “Who wants the trunk?”  I’m not sure if he was kidding.  My son thought he was kidding, and went along with the joke, climbing in the trunk.  I mean, it’s not like it’s sealed, it’s more like a squishy back seat – it’s open to where we will be sitting.  My girls think this is hysterical.  I’m trying to make eye contact with my wife to see if she’s going to veto this any time soon.  But no veto comes, my son realizes that we’re not joking and that he’s about to have a story to tell his friends, and we close the lid on him.

The rest of us do indeed fit in the car with some lap sitting, and me still, three days later, forgetting what side I”m supposed to get in on.  But we’re off!

What happens next?  Does he kill us and bury our bodies somewhere? Stay tuned for the stunning conclusion!

 

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Shakespeare Geek in Stratford : Tuesday Continued

With the birthplace and our super secret special visit to the collection out of the way, we jumped on a bus and headed out to Mary Arden’s Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

First stop Anne’s house! It was difficult to get the whole thing in a single shot, so I’ve included an artistic representation (which was hanging on the wall as we went in), for context.

It’s here that the first person spotted my shirt! I was wearing my “Shakespeare makes life better” shirt, that I made specially for this trip (it’s one of my few long sleeve designs). As the group of us entered the first room, greeted, by a tour guide, he was acknowledging people and making small talk. Reading my shirt he said, “Well yes, yes he does. I can safely say I agree with that.”

Before he dismissed the group to start the tour (self-guided) he said to me again, “I do like that shirt. I’ll remember that.”  So I reached into my pocket and handed him one of the Shakespeare Geek stickers I told you all I’d be carrying :).  I told him that I ran a web site dedicated to Shakespeare, and that this was sort of “my brand”.  He seemed happy.

And here’s my most boring and yet coolest picture.  When we went down into the kitchen, the guide was telling us that of all the things that have been restored here over the years, the floor that we’re standing on is in fact original. “So,” he said, “Of all the places that you walk, it’s safe to say that right now you are standing where William Shakespeare stood.”  So I took the above picture.  I notice that several people grabbed their cameras and did the same thing, stealing my idea 🙂

I started our trip to the birthplace taking pictures of all the beds. Is that the second best bed? Is that it?  Turns out I could have waited, because this one says right on it, “This is the one that might have been.”  Like so many Shakespeare things the best we can do is make guesses based on evidence.

And on that subject, is this the chair? In our last stop I asked about the chair that Thomas Jefferson claims to have taken a chip from. Though no one knew the story, I was pointed to “Shakespeare’s Chair” at Anne Hathaway’s house.  It didn’t really look the worse for wear, though.  I guess we’ll never know!

On to Mary Arden’s, which is in fact a working farm.  This is as close to a Sturbridge Village or Plymouth Plantation that we’d would get. Do those references mean anything outside of New England? Imagine a place that’s pretending to be the age it depicts. So all the workers dress and speak like they would have centuries ago, tending to their chores, giving lessons and so forth.  That’s Mary Arden’s farm.

I didn’t take many pictures here, it was in all honesty looking much like Anne Hathaway’s cottage just without the specific “Shakespeare went here” vibe.  I did get a kick out of this shot, though, because all I could think was “Looks like they were running their own Airbnb.”

What the farm did have was animals.  Lots and lots of them.

There were also pigs to feed, both babies and mama.  We bought food and fed everything that we were able to feed, which led to a dad joke opportunity:

“A duck just bit me,” said my oldest.

“Maybe he thought you had food. Or, were food,” I replied.

“No! I tried to pet him, and he was not amused.”

“Well no, of course he wasn’t. You just said he was a duck.”

So overall it was a very nice visit to a farm, I just didn’t come away with a whole lot of Shakespeare content.  Still a nice way to spend an afternoon. Huge place. Had some lunch there. Could have spent much longer.

As Tuesday winds to a close, it’s time to tell you about Jon.

Way back in I think it was January, I posted about my upcoming trip and asked for suggestions.  I got many (including the advice that all the shops close at 6pm!) and almost missed a late one at the end from Jon Fraser, who has been a periodic contributor to the site over the years (I see his name in comments dating back to 2016) who offered a number of ideas, and then dropped this bombshell – turns out Mr. Fraser works for the local government in Worcestershire, where they just happen to have Shakespeare’s original marriage bond in their archives and would I like to see it?

A conundrum!  On the one hand, well duh, of course I want to see it. But it’s more complicated than that, as Worcestershire’s a good 45 minutes outside where we’ll be, and I’ll have my family with me and they might not be quite so excited about spending an afternoon (assuming we can even get out there) to see a piece of paper that doesn’t really mean all that much to them.  So we go back and forth a bit over the weeks and honestly the idea just kind of stalls.  But before we leave I do open up the thread and tell him I’ll be there next week.

What’s waiting for me Tuesday night? Email from Jon saying that he’s seen my posts on social media, and now that I’m local do I want to get together? Sure!  It’s still unclear whether we’ll hike it out to Worcestershire or just hang out, but that’s to be decided tomorrow.

Ok, that about wraps it up for Tuesday!  We still have New Place and Hall’s Croft to see, as well as the school.  And whatever mystery Mr. Jon Fraser introduces to the story…

 

 

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Shakespeare Geek in Stratford BONUS! Such Shakespeare Stuff!

From the minute I walked down Henley Street and saw Shakespeare t-shirts in the window I knew that the entire trip would be a living Venn Diagram between “I already have that” and “I must have that.”  I was not mistaken. Every trip to every gift shop was basically, “Yes, yes, one each please of all the things!”  But I knew I had to be selective. How many miniature copies of the sonnets do I really need? 🙂

I could pepper my timeline posts with “…and then I bought this!” But that would just make those posts longer.  So instead I decided to just do a gallery right here of all the stuff I ended up coming back with. Enjoy!

 

The first store we went into was actually your classic “tourist stuff” gift shop, part general England stuff, part Harry Potter, part Shakespeare.  T-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs.  It’s here that I spotted my first “not by Shakespeare” t-shirt (I think it was “Earth has music for those who listen?”) and called it out to my kids, not necessarily loud enough to shame the clerk but hopefully enough to let anyone who was thinking about it know the mistake they were about to make.  Here we picked up a hooded sweatshirt, at my wife’s suggestion, because honestly I do need a new one.  A practical purchase.

This store does have a number of “dust collector” type things that would be perfect for my desk at work.  Little busts of Shakespeare sort of thing.  I keep coming back to one (literally, I return to the store twice to look at it) but decide I just don’t like this one, his features are too pointy. I decide to keep looking.

I have wanted to add a Shakespeare rubber duck to my collection for years. So when we spotted these at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust I knew I wanted one. The problem is that this one is small (phone for scale). It’s the kind of thing you could balance on your thumb.  I debate whether to get it.  It’s still early in our trip (and that’s how I tend to buy things, telling myself to hold off until the last moment).  But my son decides that this is something I want, and wants to use some of his trip money to buy it for me.  They actually want 4.50 for it, which seems a little outrageous, but we learn later that’s because it’s actually got lip balm in it 🙂 My daughter gets one for herself as well because she prefers the tiny ones.

 

 

And wouldn’t you know it, the next day we find the “real” size ones (imagine the kind of thing you can hold in the palm of your hand).  What’s more annoying is that they only want about 5 for this, where the smaller one was 4.50 (that’s when we realized for the first time that the smaller one served a dual purpose).  My son’s all bummed out now because clearly this is the one I really would have wanted, and he does not have enough trip money to buy both.  So we compromise and decide that *I* bought *him* the smaller one with my own money, and thus we can also get the big one, which can be from him.  In fact, the little one is now sitting on his desk next to his phone.  The big one is on my desk at work.  Problem solved.

More than one person said to go to the RSC Gift Shop, they have stuff that nobody else has.  I found that hard to believe, but I’m a believer now.  I don’t need yet another copy of the sonnets, or a shot glass or coffee mug, but I could wear Shakespeare socks every day. I have a pair that my kids got me for Christmas and now I have two!

Last but not least!  I’m glad I didn’t buy pointy featured Shakespeare on that first day, because at the RSC shop I found this little guy who I like much better. He’s now sitting happily among his friends on my desk.

That’s it!  We now resume your regularly scheduled trip through Shakespeare Geek’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

 

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Shakespeare Geek in Stratford : Journey To The Center Of The Universe

[Settle in, this is a long one!]

Couple of funny stories to start this one as we wrapped up Monday. Heading back to the airbnb we walk past the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) again, and this time there’s no crowd out front. I’m offended. The same man from earlier, the same one who didn’t really care who I was, was still out there.  So I asked, shocked, “Where is everyone??” He shrugged. I wonder at what point he started thinking I’m weird.  I try to engage him in conversation again. I see the “Reception” door next to the normal entrance, and again name drop that tomorrow morning I guess I should go in that door. My family is trying to get me to stop bothering the man, and only later did I realize I sounded like someone out of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I was sent for! I said in my earlier post that this day was just like any other day for them, but I like to think I was at least a bit more memorable than average. Did you guys see that weird American? Seems to think we should know him. Apparently he’s been bothering Professor Wells.

I’ve also failed to mention thus far that I have no particular shame – I went ahead and pinged Stanley Wells to tell him I was coming.  What did I have to lose?  Told him that if he was in town it would be great to say hello in person (since we follow each other on Twitter and have had conversation).  Unfortunately (for him or for me I’m not sure), he was in Italy on holiday.  But later in the trip where I asked on Twitter where my wife could get a good shepherd’s pie, Stanley chimed in with suggestions. 🙂

Wrapping up Monday we got back to our place and tried to figure out how much energy we had left for dinner. My son had spotted a Subway sandwich shop so we thought ok, cool and easy, grab some sandwiches from a recognizable American joint and just relax for the evening.  We walk back to Henley Street at about, oh, 5:55pm and … everything’s closed.  All up and down the street, the coffee shops, the gift shops, the sandwich shops … closed.

I get back on Twitter and write, “Hey people, in the weeks leading up to this trip when I kept asking if there was anything I should know, don’t you think maybe the fact that everything closes at 6pm was something I should have known!?”  And one of my followers wrote back, “I TOLD YOU!”  Sure enough she was right.  That was back in January, and I’d completely forgotten. She was right, I was wrong.

Tuesday

Tickets in hand we headed right to the center.  The plan was to meet Chris Smith, but not until 11:30, so we would go see the actual birthplace and gardens right at 9.  I think I levitated to the door and handed over my tickets.

First thing we saw was a Folio, which had someone stationed with it to answer people’s questions. I point it out to my son and start answering his questions, and the guide chimes in with her own answers and practiced responses, and I become “that guy” as expected as my son can’t decide whether he’s supposed to listen to her or me 🙂  She’s plainly talking to him, of course.  I’m trying to engage her in conversation about the topic like “Yup, you work here, I’m just a random guest who walked in, but we’re the same.”  She probably couldn’t wait to get rid of me.

I’m realizing only just now, as I write this, that I took almost no pictures this first day! I think I was in shock. There was so much “I have no idea what to look at, there’s so much stuff!” that it never even really occurred to me to single anything out as picture worthy, I think I would have felt like if I can’t take everything I don’t know where to start.

Maybe I was just in a daze, but I don’t really remember everything about that first day. Is that weird? I don’t really feel a connection with baby Shakespeare. The idea of Shakespeare as child? Shakespeare with brothers and sisters? Doesn’t resonate with me.  It’s interesting in a sort of “complete the puzzle” way, but I don’t have much expertise in this stage of Shakespeare’s life. I couldn’t recite his siblings. Or what happened to the house over the years. I feel.

We did take several pictures.  They’ve just got something of a random quality to them. They’re not of anything special because of its significance. They’re just of … well, stuff.  But, if you’ve never been, please enjoy!

There’s really two parts, there’s the exhibits (where we see a Folio, and various artistic representations of Shakespeare), and then there’s the actual birthplace. Here, people are dressed up in costume and telling us all about Shakespeare’s life and times. I’m afraid to talk to anyone because I don’t want to monopolize. I don’t really have questions, I just want to hang out with these folks. If they said “We’ve got a costume in back, throw it on and come join us” I would have bid my family a fond adieu and told them to pick me up at closing time.

As we near the exit I think, you know, I do want to talk to one of these

people, I’ll feel like I missed my chance if I don’t.  So the last woman we see, I ask about “the chair”. She has no idea what I’m talking about.

Does no one know about the chair?  In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the birthplace, and carved a chip from Shakespeare’s chair as a souvenir.  I always thought that this was a tradition that people did (like touching the Juliet statue inappropriately in Verona) and wondered if I would have my chance.  When friends have gone to Stratford I’ve told them, “Get a chip off the chair.”  Guess I’ve misunderstood that story?  If these folks don’t know what I’m talking about, chances are I’m wrong.  The woman I’m speaking with does tell me that “Shakespeare’s chair” is at Anne Hathaway’s cottage, though, so we shall see on another day!

We go sit outside, where there’s to be Shakespeare performance.  I wonder what they’ll do, and if they’ll take suggestions from the audience, and think that something from As You Like It would be nice on a day like this. While we wait, I google for the Jefferson chair story, and decide to go back in to show it to my new friend. While I’m waiting, I hear “All the world’s a stage….” begin from outside and think, “Look at that, I was right.”  I never get a chance to show the link to my friend because she’s talking to a regular tourist about regular things, and I decide not to interrupt (or wait forever).  I go back outside.

The Good Stuff

Before you know it, it’s time to meet Chris.  I have no idea what we’ll do or what we’ll see, I’m just happy to be able to go in the special door and say, “We’re expected.”  We get cool visitor passes.  My family of five hangs out waiting in the lobby as Chris (who I’ve not yet met) enters and tells me, “You don’t look like your profile picture.”  🙂  True enough, but how many other people you got bringing their children into the collection?

We go inside and meet Chris’ colleague Madeleine Cox, and finally I get to have the “We’re here and we do this because we love this stuff and we think life’s a better place because it’s got Shakespeare in it” conversation I’ve wanted to have. Hurray!  Madeleine tells us that she was trying to decide what would be sufficiently cool to show us. Then she comes over with something and tells us, “We just got this from Sotheby’s last week. It’s so new it’s literally not even catalogued yet.”

That is a passport issued by James I (complete with seal!) to young Thomas Puckering, who was known to John Hall (Shakespeare’s son-in-law), thus making the Shakespeare connection.  Looking for additional links to learn more about the document I found this interesting one on a site called Passport Collector, apparently the personal site for expert Tom Topol, where he was called in to the SBT for, “Assistance of identifying a 1610 issued document as safe-conduct for Sir Thomas Puckering. One of the earliest British passports in existence.”  Nice!  I think that Chris and possibly Madeleine might eventually read this, so if either wants to fill in some of the detail please feel free! Yes, I know you gave me the notes, I can’t find them. 🙁

Ok I’m going to wrap it up here, even though we did grab a bus to go see more of the Shakespeare Houses. Despite this being quite possibly the longest post I’ve ever made, it only takes us up to about lunch time on my first full day in the center of the universe.  I haven’t even gotten started.

A special public thanks to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for the hospitality, especially Alisan Cole (who got me started, including hooking me up with the taxi driver to get us back to London), Chris Smith (who now knows what I look like behind my profile picture) and Madeleine Cox who satisfied my need to “geek out” in Shakespeare land!

 

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