Photos: Craig Mitchell (with much thanks, as my camera died five days into our 14 day trip ...)
How can I put into words the being in that place, that place i have walked in imagination and dream?
First task was a kitsh Shakespeare souvenir challenge! We never agreed on the winner, but of the entries we later saw, there was a thimble, shot glass, an eraser with 'out damn
spot' written on it, Shakespeare insult gum, several magnets ... much to choose from! Heidi and I got ours on a first walk up the main street while clothes were washing at the laundromat.
After we settled in, not without drama as some rooms were not ready at their specified check in time of 2.00 pm, I showered (mine being one of the rooms that was ready), changed and headed back up the main street.
I went to the Birthplace. First you walk through an exhibition in the visitors'
centre, then the gardens with flowers mentioned in Shakespeare's various works, and then into the house. The exhibition wasn't earth shattering, not when you've read as many books as I have on Shakespeare's life and times. Interestingly there's not much about the poems in any of the houses or exhibitions, mostly they concentrate on the plays. And when they talk about the house, New Place, they say that Shakespeare bought it, though I have to say Germaine Greer's argument for the money being more likely earned by Ann's enterprises in Stratford than Will's in London is quite convincing (Shakespeare's Wife). They also only say this is where Shakespeare lived late in life, not that his family lived here
while he was in London ... Admittedly I didn't get to Ann or Mary's (Shakespeare's mum) houses, where they might say more about the lives of these two women.
The first room is part of a later cottage, and here you are welcomed by a staff person. Then you enter the parlour, where the best bed is on display as the most expensive piece of furniture John and Mary Shakespeare would have owned (as it would have been placed in their time). There's a room with the gloving equipment of John's business, and then upstairs a big room with the history of the memorialising of the god of England's idolatry displayed. By now i had tears welling.
Then the master bedroom. This room was on Grand Designs on the ABC in Australia not long before I went o/s, and when I saw the host and the featured rennovators standing in it I realised I would be standing there myself, at last, very soon. And now, here I was. A lady dressed as Jane Hall (Shakespeare's daughter) told me about it, and i stood listening, wanting her to go away. Finally she did. Tears pusshing the dam wall, i am here. I moved to a room and the back of the top floor and stood at a window overlooking the garden weeping. Weeping.
The plays attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon speak deep, lasting truths about humanity, holding a mirror to our experience over 400 years. What imagination and insight, observation and understanding, wit, craftsmanship, artistry. I am in awe. William Shakespeare and his contemporaries shaped theatre, language, culture, and continue to help form these things so many years later. it was an era as influential as the industrial revolution. But you don't hear people talk about it as a revolution. One man just gets held up as a god - of literature more than theatre, where his plays belong.
Anyway, I stood at the window, not able to think anything in words - these all come later - unable to explain my weeping, but weeping none-the-less. I was moved. Deeply moved.
I bought more stuff at the shop.
Then off to Holy Trinity. What moved me the most there was the continuing community of faith and worship that gather there, where William and his family are buried, where they participated in the community and its rituals, and where in the corner now there is a children's area. Lovely.
Then I joined Craig in the queue for tickets to Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Courtyard Theatre. We were there for hours, and a bottle of wine and two platters later, finally one ticket fell to us.
Craig, Ben, Darren and Heidi urged me to take it, and I went in. After ten minutes, and sitting 6 rows from the stage,
I was praying and hoping fervently that at least Craig would get it - he'd been waiting the longest. Then all four of them walk in and sit just across the aisle from me. Gold! We couldn't have planned it this well!
David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, RSC, Stratford - speechless.
This performance made more of the humour than other versions I've seen, and the death scene was consequently less emotive, lighter than that of the State Theatre Company in SA last year. Still, it was captivating and it was brilliant. Heidi and I skipped up the road to the hotel afterwards. Craig has blogged interesting thoughts in response to stuff in the program - you can read them here.
Next morning I went to Nash's house and the New Place gardens. I walked through the Great Garden next to that, with sculptures I didn't really care for, and then through the RSC gardens along the river, past the Swan theatre which is being renovated. I found out later that it had to be gutted because the Avon had flooded last year, along with a few other rivers in England.
I walked through Hall's Croft and the garden there and then to the Gild Chapel, where there is a window depicting John Shakespeare and at least one Quiney. I recalled all the Corporation intrigues I've read about in various books ...
And then it was over. Pilgrimage complete - or only just begun?