Every April 23rd is Shakespeare Day, which is a day to commemorate the famous British playwright. William Shakespeare’s fans chose that day because he died on April 23, 1616, and may have also been born on that day in 1564 (his baptism was April 26, so it is possible). Although the English used in his plays may not be the easiest to understand, his works have endured throughout the centuries. Perhaps the main reason for this is because the themes found within his plays continue to remain relevant up to the present day. Additionally, Shakespeare does a wonderful job of portraying humanity and placing you inside the minds of both villains and heroes. Finally, whether you realize or not, Shakespearean created many phrases and words that have now entered into the English language.
If Shakespeare fans want to learn more about The Bard, they should visit his birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, which is about a two-hour drive away from London. Stratford-upon-Avon is a town along the River Avon, which is why “upon-Avon” is a part of its name. This distinguishes it from other places in England with the name of Stratford.
At Stratford-upon-Avon, you can visit Shakespeare’s boyhood home, his wife’s home, and the home of his daughter and son-in-law. You can also see the Edward VI School, which is believed to have been Shakespeare’s school. With the exception of the school, which is still active, the homes were restored by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust still maintains the homes and offers tours of them to visitors. When I visited, the tour guides wore 16th century garb, and at Shakespeare’s Birthplace Home, even performed scenes from two of Shakespeare’s plays.
At the home of Anne Hathaway, who was Shakespeare’s wife (not the actress of the same name), the tour guides described why Shakespeare and Anne got married. About eight years younger than Anne, 18-year-old William had to marry Anne after impregnating her. They ultimately had 3 children. However, Shakespeare ended up living in London to work as an actor and playwright, while his family remained at Stratford-upon-Avon.
The home of Shakespeare’s oldest daughter, Susanna, is called Hall’s Croft, and was the largest home in town. Because Susanna’s husband, John Hall, was a doctor, the top floor displayed medical instruments from the 16th century. They looked frightening!
Shakespeare fans should also try to visit the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London. The original Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, burned down. However, in 1997, a new Globe Theatre was built, with the attempt to make it look as much like the original as possible. It is a circular, open-air theatre, and stands near the foundations of the original Globe Theatre (another building is on the original location). The Globe Theatre currently provides historic tours of its building, where tour guides explain what a theater experience would have been like in Shakespeare’s day. According to my tour guide, poorer people could not afford the seats, so paid an entry fee of a penny to stand in the middle of the theatre. My tour guide mentioned how that would have been a smelly experience, because people hardly showered then, and because people used the middle of the theatre as the public toilet. The original Globe Theatre had woodchips on the ground, which helped to cover up the litter, but the new Globe Theatre does not replicate this feature, due to fire hazards.
Today, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre performs plays at the Globe Theatre during the warmer months of the year. Visitors may purchase tickets to watch the play standing, just like the lower classes did during Shakespeare’s day. However, that means that if it rains, those are the people who will get wet.
Because the Globe Theatre is currently closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Globe is currently streaming recordings of its older performances online: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/
You can also take a virtual tour of the theatre: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discover/about-us/virtual-tour/
As Shakespeare says in Act 2, Scene 7 of As You Like It, “We have seen better days.” However, hopefully, by the end of this year, the Coronavirus will listen to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1, and will have “Melted into thin air.”
Sources and Further Reading
Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Globe Theatre.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Globe-Theatre (accessed May 1, 2020).
Encyclopaedia Britannica. “William Shakespeare.” https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare (accessed May 1, 2020).
“Shakespeare Phrases.” Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-phrases/# (accessed May 1, 2020).
Shakespeare Trust Birthplace. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/ (accessed May 1, 2020).
Shakespeare’s Globe. https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ (accessed May 1, 2020).