4th August 2017 – £26.25 (for three sites)
Joined by Sinead Flament
“Eat a crocodile?” Hamlet, Act 2 Scene Something
You should go to Stratford. It’s nice. A spread of asymmetrical buildings on asymmetrical streets within the asymmetrical Cotswoldish countryside. This is how Americans see England: pot-bellied patriots, red-nosed from warm beer, laughing in the sunshine. And all this for the bard of Avon. The pubs are low-ceilinged, the Tudor is well-mocked; all’s well. It’s almost pretty enough to be in Yorkshire. Such an amazing place is it that Shakespeare buggered off when he was 18.
The true reason to visit this pearl of Warwickshire is the plays. Venus and Adonis, Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra was our line up, and superb they were too. The rest is rather splendid but, nonetheless, feels like something to do before Act 1 Scene 1. So, in one day, we traipsed the core tourist sites of this cradle of literature. Here is my account of it.
“When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” King Lear
The origins of Shakespeare’s birthplace, like so much with that upstart crow, are a bit of a mystery. Some say it’s late fifteenth century, others mid-sixteenth, others late sixteenth. Wait.. what? Shakespeare’s birthplace might have been built after he was born? How does that work? Am I being dense? Either way, it a beautiful mess of crooked beams and warped windows that, decked in roses, makes for a pleasing scene indeed.
Beside that resplendent birthplace of yesteryear, is the utilitarian reception of yester-decade. I scoffed at the price (as is my wont), before realising it was for three sites. Not bad really. “Money is a good soldier and will on!”
So we started with a couple of rooms detailing how ace Shakespeare is. Which is true. It’s satisfyingly multimedia with videos, text, exhibits, interactive screens, music, and facts all over the walls. Apparently Hamlet is being played somewhere in the world, but then, statistically, so is Glee.
I did have two distinct problems, mind:
First off, you can tell when someone knows nothing about Shakespeare when they explain how many words he invented. For a start, he didn’t invent them, he was the first person to put them to print. Second, who cares? He was a poet and a storyteller. Anyone watching Julius Caesar and banging on about his use of the word “unreal” needs to have a word with themselves.
Second, I’m pig sick of people recently depicting Shakespeare with hair. Can we not have one poster boy? He was bald! Okay? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you take our hats off in winter, are we not chilly? This is all because of the Cobbe Portrait, confirmed in 2009 to be Shakespeare. You know who confirmed it? The Cobbe family. Yeah, the same ones who own the picture. Unreal. Actually, that’s inspired me to do some digging and, in my humble attic in South London, I found the only ever genuine portrait of Lady Godiva! and here it is…
They had actors actually performing in the garden which was totally, 100% fantastic. It was like a 17th century knees-up. We had two fellas in tights asking people for play suggestions and they’d give a passage from there. Ding fucking dong! Yes please. Where else does this? It was the happiest I’ve been since Michael Barrymore’s My Kind of Music was on the telly. He did me a passage from Julius Caesar. I think… I think I’ve got something in my eye.
The house itself was lovingly low-ceilinged and wonky beamed. Rooms that made no sense had corridors that doubled as bedrooms and toilets. There were people everywhere talking us through everything. If tour guides be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it. It’s about as good as a writer’s house can be… but still a writer’s house.
Shakespeare’s father was a glover not a writer. Boom, and indeed, tish.
They’re not daft, though. They had a “Shakespeare’s literary contemporaries” bit that only featured Tang, a Chinese playwright. Of course, it was surrounded by Chinese tourists.
Interesting as it was, it was telling that we were done in an hour, and I love Shakespeare. It’s a pity that the plays don’t always follow the same trend (I’m looking at you, Antony and Cleopatra).
But oh! the gift shop! Think of something in your house. Yeah? Right, the gift shop has that with Shakespeare’s face on it. Remarkable.
“So, you are very welcome to our house. It must appear in other ways than words, Therefore, I scant this breathing courtesy.” Merchant of Venice
How disappointing that the greatest craftsman of the English language plumped for such a workaday name for his swanky new digs.
New Place, I don’t really get you. You’re a garden where his house used to be. So what? You’re pretty enough, and well done on the statues, but you really need to raise your game.
There were no attendants to tell me anything like in the Birthplace, so I had to read your weird signs:
“It is now a registered garden where you can make your own personal connection with Shakespeare the man and the writer”. Or you could just read his plays.
“The journey starts here”. No it doesn’t. Shakespeare’s journey started at his birthplace, as did this tour. That’s just bullshit marketing rhetoric, that.
“Steeped in stories from his lifetime” Well, why aren’t you telling me any of them?
There was an exhibition inside that tried its best to present the story of a bloke’s house but good luck making me care. I like Kate Bush, but I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the deeds to her property.
There was a strange display about the difference between William’s exploits in London and Anne managing the house in Stratford. I guess that’s interesting. Is it? Doesn’t Shakespeare spirit us away from such tawdry domesticity?
What would you ask Shakespeare?
“Greetings from a Belgium”, was my favourite.
“Yo dude #anonymous.”
“What will your next play be about?” In kid’s scrawl.
Sinead asked “What do some of your plays mean?”
For an extra £8 we could’ve gone to Shakespeare’s School in the centre of town. Nice try, Stratford.
“Death is my son-in-law.” Romeo and Juliet
The home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall?! Now we’re talking!!
The Shakespearean connection here’s scraping the barrel, really. That John Hall’s got some front naming the place after himself considering his wife’s name. Like if I married J.K. Rowling and called our house “Joe’s Gaff”.
It’s not much more than a really old house, but the people running it are dreamy and friendly and lovely. You get the picture now, though, nice garden, lots of wood, Shakespeare probably knocked about there, where’s the nearest pub?
An exhibition of old medical equipment always goes down well and there were plenty of kids laughing at the thought of a saw tearing up someone’s leg.
Holy Trinity Church – £3
“So wise so young, they say, do never live long.” Richard III
We had to pay again!!?! They don’t miss a fucking trick, this lot. It’s only three quid for something genuinely touching, but they meekly say, cap in hand, that it costs £1000 a day to keep the place running. They must make that during lunchtime.
The playing of Elgar’s Nimrod made it feel like I’d walked into the Daily Telegraph or opened the safe door to Nigel Farage’s wank bank.
I do feel sorry for the other poor bastards buried in that building. Here’s to you, Lieutenent Duncan Flower Cunningham Reid. We hardly knew ye!
The four lines on Shakespeare’s grave might be the shittest ever written by human hands. It’s doggerel that even a lovelorn teenager would burn for being “not the real me”.
And how come Thomas Nash and John Hall take centre stage? That John Hall’s got some brass bollocks.
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.” Macbeth
For a man we know very little about, we know an awful lot about Shakespeare. But, all’s well that ends well. If you have a few hours to kill before the witches start tripping, there are much more unpleasant ways to use those hours than the tourist trap of Stratford. But then I have to put a brave face on this, as because I got to see the plays every year, I’ll be exhaling round these buildings for the rest of my life.