We took the train from Paddington Station to Stratford-Upon-Avon, a mecca for Bard devotees. A friend from the north of England came to meet us at the station. The whole town is quaint, sometimes a little too consciously, but in general the quaintness seemed real. Almost all of the houses and buildings were timber-framed. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) permeated the town. We found him everywhere from street names to the ubiquitous memorials to him to the theaters presenting productions of his plays.
We ate lunch at the White Swan Hotel, which was beautifully “authentic” inside, with low-slung, heavy ceiling beams and an utter lack of windows.
We watched the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Taming of the Shrew" in a modern theater with subtly Elizabethan features. The acting was superb, and we all thought that the experience was the highlight of the trip. The special effects were flashy and impressive and the theater was very atmospheric. It reproduced Elizabethan theater arrangements without specifically duplicating one of Shakespeare's theaters.
After the play, we went to Hall's Croft, one of the Shakespeare houses. Shakespeare's daughter Susanna married John Hall, a doctor who invented a famous cure for scurvy. The house was full of tools and medicinal exhibits, including two cases out of the doctor's casebook. There was original glass in one of the upstairs windows. The bedrooms were set up to look like a master's and servant's rooms, with period furniture. The kitchen was very neat, with herbs hanging from the heavy-beamed ceiling and an amazing hearth. The gardens at Hall's Croft were also lovely, with medicinal plants and herbs.
We ate mulberries from a tree in the garden, staining our hands. A guide told us that that is the origin of the phrase “caught red-handed.” He had invited us to help ourselves, so we weren't really stealing.
It was getting late as we finished looking at Hall's Croft, and we wanted to see as many of the important places in Shakespeare's life as possible, so we went to Nash's House next. This is where Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth lived. We also saw New Place. In his later years, when Shakespeare had become relatively wealthy and successful, he bought a fine house at New Place on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane. The house was demolished in 1759, so there is not much to see there. Today, it consists of a sign marking its location and a lovely Elizabethan knot garden.
We saw Shakespeare's birthplace, although it closed before we had time to see the interior. Then we walked to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried next to his wife Anne Hathaway. The church has transpects from the mid-13th century and later additions from the 18th century. There, we saw the bust of Shakespeare that is said to most accurately reflect his appearance in life. Although it was created seven years after his death, his wife was still alive and people generally assume that she made sure it was a good likeness.
We took the 19:55 train home. There was a trackside fire caused by some gas cylinders in Slough! They put the fire out, but we had to switch to a local train that stopped at every station, and the trip took a long time. We got off at Waterloo and took the Tube at the Jubilee Line, which was an experience. It is deep underground, so we had to take three escalators to get back to the ground level and finally get back to our hotel.