|Sunday, May 2, 2004|
FOR any visitor to England, especially those who are literature lovers fed on a steady diet of Shakespeare’s plays, a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon is a must. William Shakespeare was born in this historical riverside town on April 23, 1564. Even 440 years after his birth, avid Shakespeare fans throng the place only to experience the feel of the times and life of the bard. Besides being the birthplace of literature’s most famous author and the world’s most oft-quoted writer, the place also deserves a trip for its sheer natural beauty and idyllic ambience.
The house on Henley Street was originally a double tenement. The eastern part, the 'wool shop', was purchased by William Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, in 1556. The house consists primarily of an oak frame supported by a foundation wall of local stone. As you step inside you step back into time to the Tudor era.
Part of the interior has now been turned into a museum with books, manuscripts, pictures and other exhibits associated with the writer. Rooms have been faithfully recreated with furniture, utensils, wall hangings and food of the period. One must read the signatures of famous visitors that have been cut in the window panes. The well-kept garden of the house has been planted with trees, shrubs and flowers mentioned in the bard's plays. Adjoining the birthplace, is the Shakespeare Centre, opened in 1964, and headquarters of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Little remains of the house known as New Place, which was originally built by Sir Hugh Clopton in 1483. Shakespeare bought the house from W. Underhill in 1597. He moved into the house, one of the largest, in Stratford, upon his retirement from London in 1609. He died here at the age of 52, on April 23, 1616. The house passed on to Shakespeare's daughter Susanna, and to her daughter Elizabeth. Eventually, it reverted to the Cloptons, the family who originally built it. For any tourist, the school where Shakespeare was educated, the Grammar School and Gild Hall, is also worth a visit.
The school, on the first floor, can be reached by an external stairway. Since it is believed that Shakespeare was educated in this room, his desk has been preserved in his birthplace. Adjoining the schoolroom is the Council Chamber, particularly notable for the pattern of its half-timbered structure and roof. No trip of the town is complete without a glimpse of the house where Shakespeare’ ladylove, Anne Hathaway, lived before tying the knot with the bard. It is now known as Anne Hathaway's cottage.
Most of the furnishings belonged to the Hathaways and their descendants. On the ground floor are the parlour with its superb panelling and open chimney corner. The kitchen has an old oven by the fireplace, and plates of wood and pewter. In one of the upper rooms is a carved bed which has been there for 400 years. Completing a perfect picture is the old-fashioned garden with its adjoining orchard.
The Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, on the bank of the Avon, incorporates different styles of architecture. The Early English tower dates from 1210, but the spire is an addition made in 1763. William Shakespeare's grave is on the north side of the chancel. On the wall above is Shakespeare's monument which was erected before 1623 but renewed in 1745. The window to the left of Shakespeare's monument represents the Seven Ages of Man. Another attraction in Stratford-upon-Avon is Harvard House, one of the most ornate houses in the place. Harvard House is a fine example of an Elizabethan town house with rooms featuring flagstone floors and period furniture. Rebuilt in 1596, it was the home of Katherine Rogers, mother of John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University. It was presented to Harvard University in 1910 by Edward Morris, a Chicago millionaire.