We began our day in a hectic bus terminal in London, where we caught our bus to the home of William Shakespeare, Stratford Upon Avon (pronounced Aven). This fancy title is just another way of saying it was a street from which you could ford the Avon River. It took over 30 minutes to find our way through the hustle and bustle of London traffic, but then it was a peaceful ride in comfort, gazing out onto the English countryside.
Will was a son of a wealthy glover, or leather worker, who had become mayor by the time William was 4 years old. Besides dealing in leather, William’s father, John, was also an illegal wool trader. There is still a controversery over whether Shakespeare and his family were also “secret Catholics”, which would have been forbidden during Queen Elizabeth’s reign after the reformation. Elizabeth’s Father, Henry VIII, had taken over control of the church after being ousted from the church for divorcing his wife and marrying Anne Boleyn.
Many of William’s 37 plays contain references to the things he must have witnessed as a child, including business dealings (legal and otherwise), town meetings, trials, altercations, and visiting foreigners. They also contain references to things he learned growing up, including the fairies who were likely to visit the children at night during their dreams, and the bad dreams that came carried by a female horse, the night mare.
By the time William had died 52 years later, he had written over a million words, some of which were sonnets (written while all the theatres were closed Down by the church), many of which were performed by Shakespeare and friends, and all of which were published by his friends after his death.
We also visited King Edward VI school, where Shakespeare attended 5 1/2 days a week, 44 weeks per year, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. (with a half-day break on Thursdays). The school is still in operation today, in a building just across the yard from the original. Since it was against the law not to attend the Protestant church in town, the children were tested on the sermon every Monday. They also learned English, Greek, Latin, mathematics, history, and practiced on the longbow, which required 90 pounds of pull and is credited with a few victories over the French during the Hundred Years War, daily.
Once Shakespeare was grown, he purchased a home of his own and turned his family home into an inn. Why he didn’t give his family home to his sister who was living with her husband and six children in a tiny house next door, we’ll never know. He later died after an episode where, according to the vicar of the nearby Holy Trinity Church, he and his friends Drayton and Ben “had a merry meeting and it seems they drank a bit too hard…” We will never get an opportunity to visit his “grown-up” home, since it was later owned by the church and then burned down in the 1700’s to prevent the many tourists from peering in the windows. Tourists? In the 1700’s? No, this isn’t a typo.
We ended our visit reveling at the fact that we had just walked the streets where the timeless bard who had woven such fascinating, intricate tales had walked as a boy, and listening to skilled dramatists quoting scenes upon request.