August 29, 2012
I caught the train to Stratford-upon-Avon this morning, which had an hour long stop-over in the grey little town of Leamington Spa. Every day I’ve been in England so far has been brilliantly sunny and beautiful, but it was quite rainy this morning. The rain was no match for this Portlander, however, and I put my travel poncho (aka trash bag) over my head and went into town for breakfast. The nearest pub was the Jug and Jester, and I settled in for a traditional English breakfast of eggs, sausage, beans, ham, and tomatoes. I’m so frikkin’ happy I don’t even know what to do with myself.
When the train got to Stratford-upon-Avon, I shouldered my pack and began to walk into town. Observation #1: There is usually a walk from the train station into town. Observation #2: There is usually a walk from the edge of town to a place with travelers’ information. I seriously think I have walked a bazillion miles, and it’s only been something like five days. The walks are mostly delightful, but this morning, in the rain, I think I could have done without.
After stopping at the travelers’ kiosk to get my bearings, I walked straight to Shakespeare’s birthplace, an old Tudor house in the center of town. It was pretty amazing to stand on the stones of his parlor — I actually reached down to lay my hand on them, knowing at one time Shakespeare had to have walked where I lay my hand. The first floor of the house was set up in the way it would have been set up during Shakespeare’s childhood. The second floor is primarily a museum, though Shakespeare’s parents room — where Shakespeare was born — is also set up with Victorian furnishings. Whereas I went through the National Gallery quite quickly, I took my time in Shakespeare’s house, reading every plaque and description, listening to the guides share the history of the place, pondering over every floorboard and window pane. (Fun fact: Did you know that Shakespeare had twins? A boy and a girl. I didn’t until today. When they were eleven years old, one of them, whose name was Hamnet, died. This certainly adds weight to all of the scenes of twins reuniting in Shakespeare’s plays. Especially the Twelfth Night reunion, in which the twins find one another after believing the other one dead.)
I went from the house to a tiny little tearoom, where I had tea, warm scones, clotted cream, and jam. All served on delicate China. It was lovely, and oh so very British.
By the time I left the tea room, the weather had cleared and it was sunny again, so I walked down the River Avon toward Holy Trinity Church. As I walked, I imagined so many scenes enacted on the banks of the river and amid the graves outside of the church. Midsummer, As You Like It, Twelth Night, Hamlet. I like to believe that Shakespeare had some of these sights in mind when he wrote his plays (or, you know, wrote some of his plays… whether or not he penned all of his plays is an interesting debate, but one I won’t go into here).
I eventually arrived at Holy Trinity, where Shakespeare is buried. He lies alongside his wife and children just beneath the altar, having given quite a bit of money to the church in his life. As I stood by his grave, I kept thinking of Isaac Newton’s grave marker — “here lies what was mortal of Isaac Newton” — I don’t think much of Shakespeare is in his coffin, but it was nevertheless neat to be so close to his corporeal being.
After a really great conversation with a woman about the difference between the Church of England and Catholicism, I ambled back up the river to the Royal Shakespeare Company, where I had tickets to see A Comedy of Errors. Along the way, I kept stopping to gaze at old doorways, wooden and chipped, resting in doorframes of wood and stone and brick. What is it that is so arresting about doorways?
The play was quite good, though the whole thing was framed with scenes of a police state which, though it did make sense with the text, felt a bit superfluous to me. The script, too, is a bit tiresome (OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A TWIN CAN YOU JUST FIGURE THAT OUT BECAUSE WE FIGURED IT OUT BEFORE THE LIGHTS CAME UP), but there was great physical comedy (particularly among the Dromeos), and the performances were excellent. And the theatre itself is absolutely gorgeous. Also, my seat had a plaque on it, saying it was sponsored by the Price of Wales. Rock on.
I am staying tonight in the Stratford-upon-Avon hostel, which is a bit misleading, as it is in Alveston, a town three miles away. It’s a nice place, though, a lot nicer than the backpacker’s in Picadilly, and I’m just going to be sleeping here, so it’s all good.
Tomorrow: Julius Caesar and dinner with Thomas!