Discovering Shakespeare’s Country

Originally posted September 29, 2011.

The title of this blog post was the name of the Grayline tour I took on Tuesday.  It was amazing.  As for filling an entire day with entertaining and enlightening activities, it succeeded.  I finally got to see more of the British countryside and it was beautiful.  I loved driving through the German countryside earlier this summer, but I loved this country better.  No offense, but there are even more shades of green.  It feels old and idyllic from every point of view.  This part of my trip more than any other part transported me back to another century.

We started off with a drive to … Oxford.  I felt odd visiting the school as a tourist, especially since I knew I’d be returning as a proper student in just a week.  In the end, I’m glad I went.  It made me even more excited to live there!  I couldn’t believe the gorgeous architecture.  It felt like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, which made perfect sense since they filmed many portions of it on campus.  We visited Christchurch College in the guided tour and they filmed scenes for the first movie and the second movie in one of the stairwells there.  I could almost hear the main theme as I walked up the stairs … and asked some of the other tourists to take my picture.  Christchurch also boasts two important literary graduates/past tutors: Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis.  I was so happy just to snap a few pictures of their office windows from the main quad. But I got the most excited when we walked past Hertford!!!  I didn’t expect to see it, but I turned around there was the Bridge of Sighs replica.  The guide only pointed it out briefly and didn’t even say it was part of Hertford College.  I got a little angry.  I guess I already have some college pride.  But I forgave him when he told me he had been an extra in the Harry Potter movies.  He went in for four days, they dressed him up in a bunch of costumes, he nodded and pointed in front of a green screen, and now you can find him in as the moving portraits in Hogwarts in three of the movies!  So I forgave him.

If you don’t recognize these stairs, watch the first two Harry Potter movies over again.

For lunch, we drove into the Cotswolds.  I liked the history of the place and how it factored in the English civil wars.  All the villages were tiny and all looked old with their dry stonewalls, thatched roofs, and limestone buildings.  If my camera hadn’t been about to die, I would’ve taken so many more pictures.  We stopped at Bourton-on-the-Water, the “Venice of the Cotswolds.”  Mainly, that just means they have a bunch of bridges over the river Windrush.  It’s funny because the river is only about one foot deep at that point!  If I had had an extra pair of socks, I would’ve had myself a little splash.  Instead, I settled down on the grass with a box of fish and chips.  I swear they tasted better because I got to watch ducks swim past as I ate them.  I enjoyed wandering around all the shops and it was very picturesque, but I don’t think I’ll be planning a visit to the Cotswolds again soon.  There were way too many old people there.  I try to be patient with the elderly—after all we’ll all be old one day—but it got to the point where I felt awkwardly young in comparison to all the people walking on the sidewalk around me.

The best part of the tour occurred after lunch: the visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.  We drove a little outside of the town to visit Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Shutterly.  It’s been really well preserved.  Her descendants actually lived there until just a little under a century ago. They have the original beds and a lot of the family’s furniture.  Most of all I was so excited to hear that I was walking on flagstones that Shakespeare had walked upon when he came to court Anne Hathaway! The gardens were amazing, too.  After all, it was a farm when the Hathaways lived there.  I wish I could’ve traipsed about in the orchards for a long time, but unfortunately I had to get back to the bus.  But next we drove into Stratford proper and visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace. It’s sad that you can’t visit the house Shakespeare built for his family and the place where he lived with Anne, but the story behind it is pretty funny.  The guy who owned the house after the Shakespeares got really annoyed because hundreds of people kept coming to see the place where the famous playwright lived.  In order to keep them away and to get his peace back, the man tore it down.  What’s amazing is that this only happened a little while after Shakespeare died.  He was that famous even in his own era, which rarely happened for artists and authors back then.

Anyways, Shakespeare’s birthplace didn’t look that impressive from outside of the entrance.  And they make you watch a bunch of short little movies before they lead you toward the actual house.  I’m sure they were instructive, but since I’ve studied Shakespeare in class, visited the exhibition at the Globe Theatre, and heard the guide’s description, I didn’t really need to hear anything more about the man’s life and works.  Also, I argue that their Shakespeare “Hall of Fame” is incomplete.  They should include Emma Thompson, especially if they’re going to include Kenneth Branagh.  I liked seeing the house itself.  They have the bed where Shakespeare was actually born, which was sort of cool and sort of weird.  It’s so old and somehow seeing where someone was born feels more personal and invasive than seeing where they went courting or where they wrote.  Plus, other tourists were taking pictures inside.  I know that it’s not that big of a deal in many ways, but they had signs up and tour guides guarding the artifacts.  Maybe I’m too much of a stickler for the rules, but it annoyed me and I ended up rushing through the house.

Truthfully, my favorite part of Stratford was all the little businesses that have sprung up for tourists.  I didn’t go into them or buy any of their souvenirs, but I really liked the names.  They had a Hamlet House, a statue of a jester in the middle of the street with Shakespeare quotes engraved at the bottom, and my favorite—the deli across the street from the entrance was called The Food of Love.  Ah, I loveTwelfth Night!  It reminded me of why I wanted to go to Stratford in the first place: to celebrate the man behind the plays I studied all last semester.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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