Surely no self-respecting English teacher (myself included) would return home from a trip to England without visiting Stratford-upon-Avon. After all, this birthplace and home of William Shakespeare appears in British lit books and “bardly” publications that we share with students and dream of seeing in person . . . someday.
Well, my someday came, and here my husband and I were staring squarely at the place of William Shakespeare’s birth in 1564, amazed that it wasn’t as humble a structure as we would have suspected. In fact, this half-timbered house was the largest dwelling on Henley Street when John and Mary Shakespeare lived there and raised eight children, William being the third one born.
Touring the home today offers you a glimpse of what life would be like for John Shakespeare, Mayor of Stratford, and his brood. Judging from what most people would consider a rather smallish home for 10, you might wonder how so many people could live comfortably there. But live they did. And in style. Leaded glass windows and aged-over-time hardwood floors have endured a steady stream of visitors, eager to peek into rooms and imagine life in the 16th century. And a table set as it would have been in Shakespeare’s time brings dinnertime to life. Overall, Shakespeare’s Birthplace is an impressive home, even by today’s standards.
Moving through the house and imagining what life was like “back in the day” was one thing, but what enhanced the experience were the performers dressed in period attire. Like this affable soul who serenaded us inside the front door with lute accompaniment.
And this patient, happy lady who led a hands-on demo for children in the art of making a pouch.
Although December is not the best time for touring the gardens, there’s evidence of what active members of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and area volunteers have done to restore and maintain the grounds as well as the home.
Bottom line on the whole experience? It’s a tour worth taking — and not just for English teachers. It’s history, architecture, lifestyle, joy, all rolled into one. Headed to Stratford-upon-Avon? Then, don’t miss Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
For more information:
The Shakespeare Centre, Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.