Around the World: Your Summer Shakespearean Sojourn
Shakespeare’s brilliant comedies and tragedies come to life during the summer in theaters around the world. But there’s a special Shakespeare experience to be enjoyed in England, when you travel to the Bard’s own turf, visiting the places where he lived and worked. Summer travelers who follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps are set for a thoroughly epic adventure.
For one thing, you’re likely to discover a lot about the Bard’s impact on the English language – learning, for example that Shakespeare coined more popular English phrases than any other wordsmith. Whenever you say ‘neither here nor there,’ ‘fair play,’ ‘dead as a doornail,’ ‘laughing stock and ‘in stitches,’ among other expressions that you use on a daily basis, you owe a vote of thanks to the Bard.
First and foremost among Shakespearean destinations is, of course, Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Bard was born. The town, set on the banks of the river Avon in the scenic rural countryside of Warwickshire, is steeped in history and culture. Stratford-upon-Avon’s summer events include special tours, play performances, sonnet readings and a lot of interactive events for Shakespeare enthusiasts of all ages.
Follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps down the paths and into the cottages and other places habituated by the Bard. There’s the house in Henley Street, where Shakespeare was born to Mary Arden and John Shakespeare, a glover, wool merchant and local Bailiff. There’s the Stratford Grammar School, attended by Shakespeare when he was between the ages of seven to fourteen. And there’s the home of Anne Hathaway, whom William married when he was 18 and she was seven years his senior--and three months pregnant.
Stratford-upon-Avon is both pretty and well-preserved. It’s a great place place to soak up Shakespeare all year long, but especially during the annual summer tourist season. Pick up an annotated map of the town and have a self-guided walkabout. There are signs to steer you in the right direction, and many of the sites provide free brochures filled with their history and lore.
Give yourself a full day or two to explore Stratford-upon-Avon because the town sites associated with Shakespeare and other aspects of history are so interesting you can’t help but take longer than you thought you would to explore each one.
Be sure to include the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances at Stratford-upon-Avon. This summer marks 250 years since David Garrick’s famous Shakespearean Jubilee in 1769, which first brought attention to Stratford-Upon-Avon as THE tourist destination for presentation of the Bard’s work. This year, the RSC is presenting productions of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Measure for Measure,” as well as “Kunene and the King,” a contemporary play by South African actor and playwright John Kani and two Restoration plays, “The Provoked Wife” and “Venice Preserved.” There is also a program of lectures and other enriching events. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for details.
In London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in Bankside, on the south bank of the Thames, is a hub of Shakespearean activity. A new, indoor Jacobean theater opened in 2014, allowing the company to present productions year round. The new theatre, named the Sam Wanamaker Theatre in honor of the American actor/director who founded the Shakespeare Trust, which made possible a reconstruction of the original Old Globe where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.
The new Globe and Sam Wanamaker Theatres stand about 750 feet from the location of the two first Globe Theatre buildings, the first of which was constructed in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613, and a second structure built on the same site that opened in June 1614 and closed in 1642. So, this is Shakespeare in modern dress, so to speak. The theaters are pure Shakespeare-style and in an historic neighborhood, but with advanced technology.
The Sam Wanamaker Theatre’s structure is based on a design discovered by chance, when some drawings fell from a book being removed from a shelf at Oxford University. The drawings are the earliest known design plans for an English theatre, and are of a design that would have been type familiar to Shakespeare during the latter part of his career. They are thought to be the work of John Webb, a protégé of Inigo Jones, who designed Covent Garden.
Every year, The Globe celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with a special family-friendly open house, workshops, an opportunity to go on stage to explore it and learn how it works, and an evening performance. The birthday celebration takes place in April, but the summer season sees more events to honor the Bard and offer visitors insight into his work and legacy. There are opportunities for you to explore the Elizabethan stage and see how the scenography was set up. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com for more details.
In addition to the performances, events and exhibitions, you can discover many Shakespeare locations in London on guided walking tours or by following brochures provided by the London Tourist Authority (www.visitlondon.com). Shakespeare’s London years were prolific and fascinating, so soak up all you can.
IF YOU GO: British Airways offers flights to London and Manchester from many US points of departure. See www.britishairways.com. Stratford-upon-Avon is an easy and comfortable train commute from London or Manchester. Get a BritRail pass for greater value, and note that these must be purchased before you leave the USA. See www.britrail.net. Stratford-upon Avon’s quaint bed and breakfasts and traditional inns offer great ambience and value. More information at www.stratford-upon-avon.co.uk.
More information about Shakespeare themed travel to London and Stratford-upon-Avon can be found at the British Tourist Authority Website at www.visitbritain.com.