Stratford-upon-Avon

The Shakespeare Centre

The Shakespeare Centre - Credit: Archant

Does Lynn Ede’s journey to Stratford-upon-Avon end in a lovers’ meeting? Read on to find out if she met her Romeo…

Art and nature

Art and nature - Credit: Archant

I am journeying to Stratford-upon-Avon, in the Warwickshire region of the Cotswolds. ‘Journeys end in lovers meeting’, Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night. Am I to meet a lover? We shall see.

The attractive Tudor black-and-white pattern of the market town reigns – since King Richard granted a charter in 1196 – and is full of tourists who visit for history and its independent shops. It boasts a mix of High Street essentials, department stores, numerous tea rooms, hotels and ancient pubs. It’s a popular weekend destination with plenty of accommodation choices. It offers much to do but its main claim to fame is the writer William Shakespeare and the architecture of his period still delightfully surviving.

Shakespeare’s own journey began in 1564, born in Stratford, the son of a glovemaker who went on to write surely the world’s most famous words in plays, sonnets.

Not least the sayings we all repeat on a daily basis often without perhaps noticing their authorship.

‘It’s all Greek to me’ for example, appears in Julius Caesar, ‘…but for mine own part, it was Greek to me.’ ‘Love is blind’ we often say, after Shakespeare coined the phrase in The Merchant of Venice ‘… love is blind and lovers cannot see…’ and ‘method to his madness’ appears in Hamlet with ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.’ I could go on.

The town's tourists, all with a camera

The town's tourists, all with a camera - Credit: Archant

The legacy he left to our language is immeasurable and whether you are a fan – as I am – or not, the history preserved in his name throughout the town is such a pleasure.

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You can visit his birthplace in Henley Street bang in the centre of town, walk in the gardens and see, touch with timbers he most likely laid his own hand upon. I absolutely love all that, but I’m a hopeless romantic – ‘Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?’ and adore to walk in footsteps of those gone before us. I was not disappointed then in the rose gardens when I happened upon a player soulfully reciting a sonnet for the pleasure and sighing of we the gathering audience.

The house itself is timber framed and was originally two, made into one by his father John who used to sell his gloves in the Market Square.

Charles Dickens visited the house several times, signing the visitors’ book and in 1864 attended a performance of Twelfth Night. He was part of the London Committee which persisted to secure the house for the nation.

Shakespeare's home

Shakespeare's home - Credit: Archant

Karen May and Phillip Austin work at the Birthplace and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“I’ve lived here on and off since I was five,” Karen tells me. “Tourists love to go out on the rowing boats, visit the church, just to soak up the historic atmosphere.”

Phillip adds, “This is an old town, where people know each other. It’s peaceful, historic, we have the theatre and it’s wonderful to take the ferry across the river for 50p.”

In Old Town, you will find Hall’s Croft, which was owned by Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall. Explore the doctor’s notes in his consulting rooms and also the garden with its medicinal herbs.

You can sample the delights of the museum within for yourself. Also visit Shakespeare’s wife’s childhood home, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, just outside the town and discover more details of their courtship.

During 1578 to 1592 (when he was in London) there isn’t a lot of documentation of his life, which only adds to the interest and intrigue of Stratford and its most famous resident. Though in 1589 he and his parents were named in some kind of neighbour’s dispute over land at Wilmcote so it can perhaps be presumed he was in the area at that time.

Players of Shakespeare

Players of Shakespeare - Credit: Archant

His journey came to an end in 1616 on his birthday, April 23, and the Bard of Avon’s body is laid to rest in the Holy Trinity Church on the banks of the River Avon in the town.

Waterside is a peaceful place to be, to wander the walkways, watch boating activity and wildlife on the River Avon and to take a river tour. The place is peppered with statues and areas of interest and it is here you will find the Royal Shakespeare Company. This summer you can enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello amongst others.

A popular venue to stop for a bite to eat is The Dirty Duck with a perfect river view at Waterside, or in Chapel Street is The Falcon, a 16th-century fine example of Tudor architecture. The Church Street townhouse – opposite Shakespeare’s school – offers bistro lunches, afternoon tea and a pianist in late afternoon. There is so much history in Stratford to discover you will need those foodie breaks.

Culture is plentiful in Stratford; check out StratfordArtsHouse.co.uk where you can reserve tickets for performance by Stratford Symphony Orchestra on July 12 or see Barbara Dickson on July 23. The choice of things to do is endless.

Well a Romeo did not materialise for me whilst I was there, though I loved the town as so many visitors have done over the years in their own journeys. A favourite phrase (of mine) by William Shakespeare, or at least part of it, is from As You Like It and describes the journey of life, and what a life in Stratford-upon-Avon, so I leave the last of this piece to him.

A sonnet performed in Shakespeare's birthplace garden

A sonnet performed in Shakespeare's birthplace garden - Credit: Archant

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man plays many parts, His acts being seven ages…

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