So we head out of Stratford-upon-Avon to continue our adventures in London, but fear not! Just like the man himself, our Shakespeare adventure does not stop just because we’ve left home. There’s more to come!
This part of the trip is the family trade-off. They put up with my stuff, now I put up with theirs. We see all the touristy stuff – Kensington Palace, Windsor Palace, Buckingham Palace … you get the idea 🙂 I’m spending my time looking for possible Shakespeare connections, of course. Which, to be honest, I feel a bit bad for. The story of Queen Victoria does sound very interesting, it’s just that I have no investment in that story like I do with Shakespeare’s time. I like doing things where I feel like I’m adding to my knowledge — but if I start with “I know nothing about this”, then it can go the other way and just make me feel stupid. It’s hard to go from three days of “Yes, I probably know just a wee bit more about this than the typical tourist” to “Tell me again which queen lived here?”
But London is not without its Shakespeare. I spot one family tree in one castle that starts with James I and I think, “Oo! I know that name!”
We head for The Eye, which is a giant ferris wheel, because we’re tourists and that’s just what you do. I am a bit intrigued because a see a sign that suggests we will be able to see The Globe from the top, but we do not (I have misunderstood the sign). For the curious, I didn’t find it all it was cracked up to be. If you’re thinking “I’ve been on ferris wheels before, and this is a big one” think again. You are in an enclosed capsule, which makes sense as we don’t want people falling out or jumping. But it’s an enclosed capsule that is big enough to hold, oh, 20-30 people. And an entire ride around takes over 30 minutes. So a ride on The Eye is really more like standing around in a room with 30 strangers and looking out the window for half an hour.
We take a boat ride on the Thames after our ferris wheel ride, and finally I get to see my Globe!
Animatedly I point it out to the kids and tell them that’s where we’ll be going soon. The tour guide points it out as well, telling the story about how the money for seats would be placed in a box, and then those boxes would be taken to the office, which is where we get the term “box office”.
The next day we visit the Tower of London and I get in a few more Shakespeare references as our Beefeater (how do you capitalize that?) guide tells us the story of the various famous people that have lived and died here. He gets to the Duke of Gloucester and asks if anybody knows what name we know him as. “Richard III!” I call out.
“Richard III, very good!” he calls back in response. “A historian!”
“A Shakespearean!” I retort.
Later I go hunting for evidence of the young princes emprisoned and killed in the tower, but can find none. Apparently there’s some sort of marker telling the story, but I did not see even that. I did, however, find ravens. Before we left for the trip someone told me the story of the ravens in the Tower of London, and how “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” I expected this story to be written down somewhere, and it was. I expected to see some caged ravens, and I did. But I also spotted some just sort of hanging out, too, which I thought was pretty cool.
As you can see, I was stretching for Shakespeare references during our London time. We took some bus tours and they did point out some potential Shakespeare references, but they were so small and few and far between that I’ve forgotten most of them. We did see Westminster Abbey and I did search Poet’s Corner, but it was such a zoo and we were rushed through at such a pace, I feel like I probably missed a number of cool things. I specifically tried to find Laurence Olivier (once I saw that he was there!) but could not. And if I’d known David Garrick was there I think I would have sought him out, too. (For the record, Scientist’s Corner was much more interesting – seeing Stephen Hawking next to Isaac Newton was an emotional moment on par with seeing Shakespeare’s grave.)
I love posing with statues. With a painting or something that most you can really do is stand next to it. But with statues you can interact, you can climb on them, crowd around them, pose with them, sit and read a book with them. I’m happy that Statford-upon-Avon is littered with statues of Shakespeare characters. There should be a treasure map for tourists like me to see them all out and get a prize.
Welcome to Henley Street!
Not gonna lie, this is the first statue I saw and while I was excited that things were getting real, I also kind of thought, “…eh. All I get is a fool?” As far as I can tell he was representing all the fools, as there were quotes from several plays adorning the base. I think a specific fool with a specific quote would have made me happier.
Then I saw something that made me very happy.
There’s the man himself. Love that he’s way up high, overlooking his domain. The kids even recognized this one, saying, “This is the statue from Gnomeo and Juliet! He talks!” I didn’t even make the connection.
But! The animated version doesn’t give us the good stuff. What’s Shakespeare looking at? At the four corners of the statue are his greatest creations…
My kids all chose their “spirit animals” here. I have one Lady Macbeth, one Falstaff and one Hamlet. I actually had to come back around for that Hamlet picture, I realized the first night that I hadn’t gotten a solo one of him (just one with the kids). Glad I did, I love that picture.
I posted a few of these on social media at the time and one of my Twitter followers added a picture of her own – with a statue I hadn’t seen! I had to have it. My wife was all, “I know right where that is, we walked right by it.” ?! Dude!! Back out we go. Found him!
I actually had to kick some little kids off of him to get this picture. 🙂
Shakespeare Birthplace Garden
The garden outside the Birthplace is adorned with all sort of gifts commemorating Shakespeare’s contemporaries from around the world. I took this picture specifically for Bardfilm, who I know has an interest in Shakespeare and Asian culture.
But if you want Shakespeare statues, New Place is the place to be.
First of all we saw this guy, and I audibly exclaimed, “I know this one! I’ve seen it! This is where this is?”
Then it got weird. What follows are these very interesting interpretations of the plays. I had to get them all, but now I really wish I’d labeled them better because I can’t begin to tell you which play is which. We actually played the game of trying to guess them, and my son was really good at it – until right at the end when we discovered that he was running ahead and looking at the nameplates, the little cheater.
I think the nose gives this one away! Julius Caesar
Falstaff was fascinating. I actually took a video, I just can’t figure out how to post it. Falstaff is split down the middle. This is one side.
And here’s the other!
I can’t remember who this poor soul is. There’s a nameplate right at the bottom but I can’t read it. Is he holding the swords or being pierced by them? I’m tempted to say Hamlet – it looks like he’s holding a skull – but the face is pretty old for Hamlet.
At first glance I want to say Ariel escaping the cloven pine, but The Tempest comes later on the walk. It turns out this is The Winter’s Tale, which completely wrecks my subject line because I guess we found a Hermione after all! I had forgotten all about this one when I started the post.
No guess at all. Seriously. Can’t even find somewhere to start. Anybody?
Too easy. Well shone, Moon!
This feels like Hamlet to me, but I can’t be sure.
Last but not least we have … any guesses? The Tempest.
Our Revels Now Are Ended
This post represents the last of our time in Stratford. From here we move on to London, where there’ll be some Shakespeare content (including a review of our visit to The Globe!) but Thursday morning we say goodbye to the land of Shakespeare and head in to the big city.
Did we see everything we wanted to? Could I ever? I could come back again and agan and see something new every day. I’m reminded now of a quote from Peter Brook, “Each line in Shakespeare is an atom. The energy that can be released is infinite—if we can split it open.” That’s how I look for Shakespeare in the world around me. Maybe it’s getting to see a whole show, or tour the back stage. Maybe it’s statues of Shakespeare’s most famous heroes, or a line of rowboats with names like Viola and Ophelia, or the Falstaff Hotel or a streetsign for Lysander Lane. Maybe it’s yon cloud that looks like a weasel. I’m always looking for the Shakespeare around me, and that’s why Shakespeare makes life better. Because when I find it, I feel connected to something much, much bigger than I am. For a few days there I got to swim in the deep end of the pool, and I didn’t come close to hitting the bottom.
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.
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!
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…