“I’ll have grounds
More relative than this – the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”
(Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
As someone who has been exposed to the British civilisation and culture for a significant part of her educational endeavours, I have developed a close affinity for a considerable range of things British. I would include here the English language itself (and its variety of accents, which I enjoy listening to), the Medieval and Renaissance periods of the history of this country, as well as a whole list of literary works that I have enjoyed reading (and sometimes re-reading) and that debuts, for instance with “Beowulf” or “The Canterbury Tales”, continues with the works of William Shakespeare, carries on with Daniel Defoe, the famous Romantic poets, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, D.H. Lawrence and so on.
It is due to this affinity that I love discovering the cultural sights of the UK – there’s so much more behind them than the actual places and their cultural relevance; they help me reminisce and live what I have learned and live it some more.
One of the places in the UK that found themselves on my “High Time I Visited” List this year was Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. He is probably one of the writers whose work I have read (and come to know) most closely throughout my university and afterwards, so I wanted to get a close-up to the place (and somehow the environment) that he created in.
Therefore, I took the train from Marylebone on Sunday morning and embarked on a two-hour trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. This allowed me sufficient time for some reflection over the things ahead and looking outside the window at the British landscape. Some of the scenery reminded me of the 2006 version of “Pride & Prejudice” and almost all of it of my grandparents’ orchard. 🙂
My best friend had visited Stratford-upon-Avon during her internship in the UK and she had described it as a traditional English town “where you see a nice old English cottage with a Ferrari parked outside”. I did not spot the Ferraris, but the traditional cottages, the Minis and the Range Rovers seemed to all be in position.
The actual size of Stratford-upon-Avon is unknown to me, yet it is the sort of town that a culturally enthusiastic tourist could comfortably cover over a weekend. The road from the station leads straight to the main town walk and to a very good street signage system that indicates the principle attractions of the place managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Nash’s House & New Place, Hall’s Croft, Mary Arden’s Farm and Holy Trinity Church, the site of the playwright’s grave.
The first sight I headed to was Holy Trinity Church, a site that has been in place since the 13th century. It was not planned; the road just took me there. I found a medieval church in the centre of a beautifully preserved green park (and grey and quiet graves).
The guide was a kind man who allowed me in and gave me a leaflet of the church in exchange for a small donation to the establishment. I inspected every bit of it and of its stainless glass, misericords, and high altar. Their details brought remote pasts within close reach.
Shakespeare’s grave and those of his wife, daughter and son-in-law lie in the chancel at the feet of the high altar. A bust of the playwright that his wife and friends put in place shortly after his death watches over the graves and glances at the altar. A beautiful medieval urn that Shakespeare was christened in is also close by.
I spent some extra time in the church examining the architecture and the timeless beauty of the place. On my way out I went through the gift shop and bought a genealogical tree, in print format, of the Kings and Queens of Britain. The latest generation listed is that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. “They’ll need to add another line in there soon”, I thought and walked out through the park heading towards Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.