Day 3 - United Kingdom: "Not marble nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme"

Stratford-upon-Avon

The above quote echoes my sentiments on Shakespeare’s legacy perfectly. I hold that ideas are tangible in their own way. Some that are brittle and break into fragments that are lost beyond history and remembrance, and some have permanency that can far outlast the physical characteristics of the world that gave birth to them.

If any English author has harnessed the ability to describe thoughts and ideas as if they were unbreakable, it would be Shakespeare. Having a chance to visit Stratsford-upon-Avon and see the house and the town that he grew up in was revelatory for me.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (established following the demolition of Shakespeare’s retirement home by its last owner that had tired of visitors) has done an excellent job of preserving the home that Shakespeare was born in.

The small museum in the entryway from the street does an excellent job of displaying a few rare folios and artifacts, and establishes a very good chronology of Shakespeare’s life and how it appears to trend with events in his life.

The house itself, while very well preserved, contains several hidden signs proclaiming what items in the house are “gross.” This includes things like chamber pots and the like, and seemed to be a little unnecessary. Twelve year old me would have gotten a kick out of it though.

Lastly, they had performers on a small theatre in the round taking requests, and doing a very good job of it too. They acted out scenes from Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth before acting out one of my favorite scenes in King Lear to perform (video to come shortly). It takes quite a bit of skill to know the source material well enough to react on demand in this way, and I was thoroughly impressed.

Yet, as much fun as I had pretending to walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps, the experience paled in comparison to what I would discover at his wife’s family home.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Walking into the gardens from Anne Hathaway’s cottage was like stepping through the frame and into a painting. There was an energy there that was unlike anything else that I have ever felt: part mystical, part calming, and tingly in the way that you know you are in a special place. Thus far, this has been the most incredible place that I have visited in all of England.

The cottage itself, while fascinating in its remarkable preservation (13 generations of Hathaways had lived in the cottage at some point or another) was an afterthought compared to the rest of the grounds.

Relatively unassuming from the road, the gardens have been cultivated to spectacular effect. One of the gardeners showed me around to describe the vegetation that they grow in the gardens. From thyme, to a root that takes 5 years to mature (she mentioned that she has not yet tasted it), to a race to the center of a lavender maze, it’s clear that the grounds have been meticulously designed and cared for.

There’s even a small forest path full of oversized mushroom statues hidden along the way, and strange wooden bee signs (perhaps they were a warning for bees that I had not seen). And another that leads to a sculpture garden featuring a large circular hedge and a number of tribute pieces paying homage to Shakespeare’s works.

If you are in the area, I strongly recommend a visit.