20 August 2009

William Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

From this family tree, we see that John Shakespeare married Mary Arden in 1557, and that William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was their third child and first son.

For many years, Shakespeare's birthplace in Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon has been a shrine to Bard worshippers, and The Shakespeare Trust has preserved a window in the 'birthroom' where various people have etched their names in the glass, some of the more noteworthy including Shelley, Keats, Dickens, Carlyle, and Mark Twain. Towards the end of the 19th century, the working-class poet Joseph Skipsey (1802–1903) was the curator of the house/museum for two years.

Shakespeare's daughter Susanna married the physician Dr John Hall in 1607, and they lived in Hall's Croft in the town:

One of Hall's patients was the poet Michael Drayton (1563–1631), who was born in Hartshill, Warwickshire:

Susanna and John Hall's daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Nash, and William Shakespeare bought the very imposing house next door to Nash's House: New Place, where he spent his final years. The house has long since been demolished, although the Elizabethan-type knott gardens are open through Nash's House (shown below):

The stone below, in New Place gardens, tells the story:

'On this site stood from 1483 to 1702 the house called New Place, which Shakespeare purchased in 1597, and in which he died on 23, April 1616.

'The residence passed successively to Shakespeare's elder daughter Mrs Susanna Hall who died in 1649. And to Elizabeth, Shakespeare's only granddaughter and last surviving descendant, who died in 1670.

'Subsequently the house was owned in turn by Sir Edward Walker, Garter King of Arms, and by his son-in-law Sir Hugh Clopton.

'In 1702 the edifice was completely rebuilt by Sir Hugh Clopton and in 1756 it was acquired as a summer residence by the Rev. Francis Gaskrell, who demolished it in 1759 [to avoid paying taxes on the property]. Since that year the land has remained vacant.'

Not far from Nash's House, in Church Street, is Mason Croft, which is now the University of Birmingham's Shakespeare Institute, although it was once the home of another author.

The popular novelist Marie Corelli (1855–24) moved to Mason Croft in 1901, and believed that the building had belonged to Shakespeare's daughter. She was a very colourful character noted for activities such as having herself rowed along the River Avon in a gondola, and having a photo of herself altered on the frontispiece of her books to make her seem much more attractive than she really was. The Sorrows of Satan (1895), perhaps the only one of her novels still in print, is notable for its anti-New Woman stance. Corelli adored Shakespeare, worked hard to preserve Stratford's architectural heritage, and this plaque is close to the entrance to Mason Croft.

Shakespeare was probably educated at King Edward VI school.

The Gower Monument stands in Bancroft Gardens by the River Avon, and a plaque reads:

'These figures were designed and modelled by Lord Ronald Gower, who presented the Monument to the Town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1888.

'The work was executed in Paris and took twelve years to complete. Associated with Lord Ronald in his task were his assistant, Monsieur L. Madrassi, the firm of Tassel, who made all the figures save that of Hamlet, which was entrusted to Messieurs Graux and Marley, and the House of de Cauville and Perzinku, who cast the wreaths, the masks, the fruit and the flowers.

'The Stone used in the Monument is partly Boxground Bath, partly York. The group was erected on its original site by Mr. Frederick Taylor, Contractor, under the supervision of the Architects, Messieurs Peigniet and Marlow, of Paris.'

A more recent interpretation panel adds more:

'In 1769, [David] Garrick's Stratford Jubilee festival in honour of William Shakespeare started a growing public appreciation of the Bard in Startford-upon-Avon, an appreciation which is reflected in the grandeur of this memorial statue.

'Each [figure] stands in front of individually-modelled bronze masks with flowers symbolic of each character. Hamlet represents Philosophy with ivy and cypress; Lady Macbeth is Tragedy with poppies and peonies; Comedy is represented by Falstaff with hops and roses; and History is represented by Prince Hal with English roses and French lilies.

'Originally, the statue group was situated on the other side of the theatre, with Falstaff aligned to face Holy Trinity Church. In 1926, the theatre was destroyed by fire. Following constructon of the new Memorial Theatre, the entire monument was moved to its present location in 1933 when the alignment was changed and the statues moved further from the base.'

The figures around the monument are very impressive, and of course very predictable: Hal's reformation glittering, like the crown he holds, o'er his faults; Hamlet telling Horatio he knew Yorick well; Lady Macbeth asking herself if these hands will ne'er come clean; and Falstaff after a cup of sack too many. Delightful.

Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (1556–1623) in 1582: he was 18, and she was 26. Anne Hathaway's cottage is at Shottery, a very short distance from Stratford itself, and this is the Hathaway home where she lived before her marriage.

At Wilmcote in Warwickshire, Mary Arden's House, or Farm,– as it was continuously such – was the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother.

As we left Stratford in the afternoon on our way to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, car parks were full, the streets were becoming more crowded, and a thought occurs: is this town the most significant shrine in the world dedicated to a writer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I never knew that