Everyone has an opinion about Shakespeare. Either you love his work or you hate it, reading Romeo & Juliet in school may have captured your attention, may have encouraged you to read more and more or maybe, like many young people, it ruined Shakespeare for you forever. Whatever you may feel about the Bard’s work, he has been a profound influence on English language and culture. I happen to be one of the crazy nerds with an enormous love of Shakespeare. My family frequents The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival every summer to get our fix of outdoor theatre and Shakespeare in one go. I loved these nights even as a child when my understanding of Shakespeare’s language was negligible. It is for all of these reasons that I felt the need to go to Stratford-upon-Avon when I returned to England this summer. And my solo trip to the Bard’s hometown was well worth it.
Much of Stratford’s fame comes from being Shakespeare’s hometown and this is remarkably apparent. The town is a strange and wonderful mixture of the sixteenth and the twenty-first centuries. Modern roads run past the house Shakespeare was born in, a modern parking lot abuts the house where his wife, Anne Hathaway, lived before their marriage. Despite this modernity, the houses themselves are extremely well preserved, essentially unchanged with the same stones on the floor of the kitchen, and the same thatch roofs. The Five Shakespeare houses are all managed as part of the Shakespeare Centre and each of them has its own character and history told through exhibits and tours. Mary Arden’s farm is a living history museum and Anne Hathaway’s house has a huge and beautiful garden that I wandered through for hours. These houses are a remarkable journey through time and I loved exploring the places Shakespeare would have known and the history of his life.
Stratford itself is a quite town. The river creates a relaxing atmosphere running right through the main square, past the Royal Shakespeare Company, and around Trinity Church. I spent a lot of my time walking along the river, enjoying nature while also being surrounded by people. The sun shone my entire time in Stratford and I spent as much time outside as I could. Stratford is without doubt a beautiful town, very touristy due of course to Shakespeare, but peaceful in its own way.
One of the main reasons to go to Stratford is to see a Shakespeare play. So, on a Monday night I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company or RSC perform Henry IV: Part II, never have I gotten a better deal. For £5, I got to see an incredible performance from the third row. I do not know the Henry IV plays very well, in fact I had never seen them performed, nor had I read them, I knew them simply by reputation. While I didn’t know much about the play, I absolutely loved it. The acting was incredible, the staging simple and understated but brilliant and completely fitting for the play. The actors were able to use the power of language, both verbal and physical, to bring the play to life. For play enthusiasts, history lovers, or anyone really I highly recommend a trip to Stratford and of course while there you must catch an RSC performance, the best Shakespeare performances in the world.