15 September 2015 A.D. The Shakespeare Trail
Bramley, Zoe. “The Shakespeare Trail.” On the Tudor Trail. 14 Sept 2015. http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2015/09/14/the-shakespeare-trail/. Accessed 15 Sept 2015.
The Shakespeare Trail
For Shakespeare fans the year 2016 is set to be one long celebration as we mark the 400th anniversary of his death. Of course, we’re not celebrating the fact that he died, but this will be a brilliant chance to sit back and watch as the TV schedules fill with Shakespeare documentaries and adaptations such as Hollow Crown. There will also be a glut of books released including one written by Boris Johnson, who is currently Mayor of London. 2016 will be Shakespeare heaven indeed.As a Shakespeare tour guide, I decided to mark the occasion with a book of my own, exploring his locations in England. The aim was to compile a useful guidebook for both tourists and armchair travellers alike. I was expecting the whole process to be fairly straightforward. After all, the Shakespeare tourist trail is a well trodden path with a nice selection of picturesque and iconic sites to write about. One which springs immediately to mind is the Globe on Bankside, with its thatched roof and whitewashed timber walls. It is a modern replica of the playhouse in which Shakespeare’s company performed plays such as Julius Caesar and As You Like It. As a living, breathing theatre it keeps Shakespeare’s memory alive by offering some truly magical interpretations of his plays. The tickets are cheap too, which always helps! Another well known site is the pretty half timbered townhouse on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and it is now a familiar sight, adorning the cover of a thousand postcards sent around the globe.
As I began to delve deeper into Shakespeare’s life, however, I began to realise that these well known locations only scratch the surface of his presence in England. Month by month, my journey took me into some of the furthest corners of the land, from the wild Northumbrian coastline to the dizzying White Cliffs of Dover. Along the way I discovered his connections with stately homes, royal palaces and even a Holiday Inn.
The truth is William Shakespeare turns up in the strangest of places. Here is a short selection of some of the weird and wonderful places in which I found him:
1: Hampton Court PalaceMost readers of this blog will associate Hampton Court Palace with Anne Boleyn, that tragic queen who beguiled Henry VIII with her wit and intelligence. Her presence can be felt in the imposing Great Hall with its faded tapestries and hammer-beamed roof. But did you know that Shakespeare was here too? As the scene of courtly entertainments, the King’s Men performed in the hall for James I in 1603.
2: Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
The church of Holy Trinity is a landmark in Stratford, its tall steeple piercing the sky. Dating back to the middle ages, it was a place of worship that Shakespeare knew well. He was baptised in the font (which can still be seen) and buried here in 1616. Look out for the bust of Shakespeare, said by his widow Anne Hathaway to be a good likeness of him. The church is rightly proud of its famous local boy and the helpful staff members are always on hand to answer questions.
3: Shakespeare Cliff, Dover
It is hard to believe that a simple cliff face should be associated with Shakespeare but this natural feature was perfectly described in the play King Lear. It is known that The King’s Men performed in Dover so perhaps Shakespeare spent some time walking around the local countryside, gazing at the sights with a keen writerly eye.
4: St Mary Aldermanbury, London
In this pretty garden stands a bust of William Shakespeare. It is surrounded on all sides by a memorial plaque dedicated to John Heminges and Henry Condell, the two men who saved his work for posterity by compiling the First Folio in 1623. Heminges and Condell were Shakespeare’s fellow actors and they lived in the area, not far from Will’s lodgings around the corner on Silver Street.
5: Guildhall, London
Around the corner from St Mary Aldermanbury is the medieval Guildhall. Built in 1430, this stunning gothic hall was the scene of state trials including those of Lady Jane Grey and Thomas Cranmer. It is a much loved landmark in the City of London but it may not have been Shakespeare’s favourite place because it was here that one of his kinsmen, Edward Arden, was found guilty of treason in 1583.
400 years after Shakespeare died our love and fascination for this extraordinary talent is still as strong as ever. As a man he lurks in the shadows but his wonderful cast of characters continues to speak in his name, making us laugh and cry as if they themselves were living people. I hope these little snippets have inspired you to follow the Shakespeare Trail, seeking out the man who breathed life into characters such as Romeo, Juliet, Puck, Titania, Hamlet, Macbeth and Dogberry.
The Shakespeare Trail: A Journey into Shakespeare’s England by Zoe Bramley is published by Amberley and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Connect with Zoe on Twitter at @shakespearewalk