To Be or Not To Be

Back in October 2014, when we were first planning our trip to Europe, Bob had said that while we were in England, he dearly wanted to visit a mini-railway and ride the little trains.  (Below:) In England, we found this ride-on mini-train at Blenheim Palace. Along with several other adults playing at being kids again, we caught the little steam train and happily rode up and down the line that ran between the Palace itself, and the Palace Pleasure Gardens.

  

   

          

Getting back to when we were planning our trip to Europe … I had said to Bob, that while we were in England, I wanted  to fulfil my dream to follow the literary trail, or as much of it as we could manage in the short time allowed.  Amongst other things, I wanted to see where Shakespeare was born, and I wanted to see where he had sat to eat his dinner, and I also wanted to visit his  Globe theatre. I tried to book tickets to a play at Shakespeare’s Globe before I left Australia, but met with no success. I was then told in an email from a friend who lives in England, that I needed to wait until we were actually in England before I could book.

Even though I would have liked it to be otherwise, our itinerary didn’t allow the time for a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe when we first arrived in England. We had only the one night in London before we began travelling around for the next nine days, and it was already late in the evening before we touched down at Heathrow. Nevertheless, our itinerary did allow for time at the finish of our stay. The present-day Globe isn’t Shakespeare’s original Globe (that burnt to the ground  in 1613 during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII,)rather the modern reconstruction of the original. The present-day Globe had opened in 1997. It stands approximately 750 feet (230 metres) from the site of the original theatre (this, because they wanted to preserve the foundations of the original theatre for the public to see), and is only 15-20 minutes walk from the Hilton Double Tree Tower Hotel in London  where we were booked to stay for our last three days in England. I promised myself that no matter what else was on the agenda, those three days in London would definitely include taking in a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, if I could get tickets that is–

I  began making enquirers as soon as we had cleared customs at Heathrow. A number of London’s black taxi cabbies, and the concierge of the hotel where we stayed that first night, as well as a few other people who had been to performances at Shakespeare’s Globe, informed us that we didn’t need to pre-book. We were advised that it would be best to get our tickets when we returned to London, after we had done our travelling around, and that contrary to what I had been told in Australia by those supposedly in the know, tickets and seats to all performances were readily available and very inexpensive. Anyone could go, it was a simple matter of turning up at the theatre half an hour or so before a performance and buying a seat. But what about seats in the galleries? Well, it was a simple matter of first in best served, but there were always good gallery seats available anyway, and inexpensive at about 8 English pounds. I really wanted to see The Taming of the Shrew.  Other than for a televised modern-day version (set in the present) which didn’t really appeal, I had never seen it being enacted. I was fresh out of luck. The play that was currently showing at the Globe was The Merchant of Venice, and which I had last seen in Sydney when I was fifteen years of age and a member of the Shakespeare Drama Group at the High School I attended, and I had loved it. Bob said that he, too, had seen the Merchant of Venice at about that time, and had enjoyed it.  We quickly decided that The Merchant of Venice would do us just fine.  But London and the Globe would have to wait until after our travels through England … the literary trail was calling, and I had to follow. I knew without doubt that there was a story laying in wait for me here somewhere. As Helen Garner said in Joe Cinque’s Consolation, “A story lies in wait for a writer. It flashes out silent signals. Without knowing she is doing it, the writer […] turns to follow” (Garner [2004] 2006, 25).

On our journey around England, after we left Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, our next port of call was Stratford-upon-Avon. We parked the car, made our way to Henley Street, and walked through the entrance of the large residence that is now a museum to Shakespeare and his family, and one which you must go through in order to gain access to the house in which Shakespeare was born.

Below:  A knight in (not so) shining amour stood in front of the museum.  He was not a statue, I saw him wink. I supposed he was standing there for effect, employed by the town as a tourist  attraction or something, but then I saw the money tin he’d placed on the pavement in front of him.

   

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I had no wish to rush. I wanted to savour each moment, and hug it to myself as it were. We strolled through the museum, poked around,  took many photos, examined the exhibits, listened to the museum guides telling us that William Shakespeare had been educated right here in Warwickshire, but at a school that was quite a long walking distance from his home in Henley Street, and got talking to an elderly couple, locals, who came from a long tradition. Their family tree could be traced back to the 1500s, and just like all their many forebears before them, these people had lived in Stratford all their lives. They told us that way, way, way back, some of their great, great, great, great, great … and so on … great,  ancestors (whom they could pinpoint on their family tree) had been neighbours to  John Shakespeare and his family, and had known young William Shakespeare. In their own family, it had been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation to generation, that Shakespeare had actually been educated elsewhere, and not at a school in Warwickshire, that he had possibly been sent away to school for some reason, and that that school had more than likely been over the border in the county of Northampton. They said their family story must have some truth to it because it was local knowledge that Shakespeare had been very roughly spoken, that his accent was not that of Warwickshire in any way at all, it wasn’t soft, that he wasn’t well-spoken as people might think he had been, and that he had spoken in a harsh, grating Northant twang that was rather hard on the ear–“oh, he was Northampton educated alright, but he wasn’t what you’d call well-educated at all. He didn’t do very well at his school studies, so my family has always said.” It never ceases to  amaze me what  you can find out about an area and its people when you take a break from the history books and the writings of the scholars and talk to the ordinary peoples of an area.

After speaking with the locals, we walked out through the back door of the museum and into the garden (or what is left of it), that belonged to the house where Shakespeare was born.

  

There, out in this lovely garden, much to our surprise and my great delight, the Shakespearian actors were performing The Taming of the Shrew.

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At the end of this performance, the players announced they would do yet another play, and the audience  was called upon to name their favourite. I and a couple of others favoured Hamlet, but the popular vote fell to another of my favourites, Romeo and Juliet.

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