I’ve been excited for Stratford since buying the trip. I’ve loved Shakespeare for a long time and hope to teach English someday. It was almost like a pilgrimage.
We gathered for our coach—my first double-decker since coming to England—in the morning and we were in Stratford by lunch. Two classes were required to be on that trip (one of them Shakespeare, which I am taking), but many people came just to see it all.
Once we arrived we were given our theatre tickets and given free reign. That’s an emerging theme I’m finding with Harlaxton travel: “Do whatever you want for the next 10 hours, and if you want a ride home, show up on time.”
We split off and wandered. Our passes allowed us entry into three of the Shakespeare properties in town—his birthplace, his home of retirement, and the home of William’s daughter Susanna. Most people agreed that these were a bit over-worked and touristy, but the grounds were beautiful and there really was a lot of information to learn.
At the Birthplace, we learned a bit of history and saw the First Folio. Famous authors and other tourists who visited long ago had scratched their names in to the windows. The house was impressive for its time period and included several guides in period garb. In the gardens, Shakespeare’s work is performed daily.
New Place, the house Shakespeare lived for nearly his last two decades, was demolished long before there were statutes to protect it. The gardens, however, have been restored and visitors can walk through the archeological dig where historians are searching for relics of the Shakespeare family.
Hall’s Croft is probably the most impressive of the three houses in terms of the physical house and grounds. It also has an exhibition of Royal Shakespeare Company items and costumes. However, by this point we were hungry, and didn’t stay long. Instead we wandered back to Hathaway’s Tea Room (everywhere in this town has a historical reference or Shakespeare pun) for tea and scones. We sat in the courtyard out back. English tea was a fantastic way to break up the day and have a bit of local culture at the same time.
Next we wandered to Holy Trinity church, the place of Shakespeare’s grave. There he is buried alongside his family. Also there is his baptismal font and the church records of his baptism and death. The place was truly awe-inspiring.
Walking along the river Avon from there offered pleasant views and a view of the town's theatres. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is by far the largest and most impressive, but it is not the only one in this town steeped in the tradition of plays.
Our day ended with a performance of Macbeth by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was the first performance made specifically for their newly remodeled space. I thought it was incredible. Everyone could at least agree that the performance was like no other Macbeth they’d ever seen or heard of. The script was slightly reworked, but it was effective and true to the feeling of the original. It was also a little terrifying. While in the theatre, the true spirit of the Bard came through.
All in all, Stratford is definitely a tourist town. Go in expecting a little bit of cheesy and a good chance of over-charging. However, it is also quaint, and pretty, friendly, and a great town to walk through. Unlike London, I felt a short trip was sufficient to see everything, but I’m still glad I went.