Stratford-upon-Avon

A daytrip to the picturesque birthplace of Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon! Founded in 1198, this small town is a major tourist attraction because of its Shakespearean heritage.

I think with this trip, I’ve finally had my fill of Shakespeare for this theatregoing season. I’ve covered all the genres: a history (Henry V), a comedy (Taming of the Shrew) and with this trip, a tragedy (Julius Caesar). The first two performances I saw at the Globe, and this last play we saw was a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has quite a large and beautiful campus in Stratford-upon-Avon.

White swans on the River Avon.

We arrived around lunchtime, so we made a first stop for lunch at Strada, an Italian chain restaurant with decently-priced lunch and dinner specials. The Stratford-upon-Avon branch is housed in a curlicued Tudor building cater-corner from the Town Hall and the Mayor’s very large parking spot.

The well-preserved Tudor buildings, including the house where Shakespeare was born, alongside the newly added tourist attractions, make for a rather odd juxtaposition of old and new. I find it odd because the old is so old–I haven’t seen quite so many Tudor buildings anywhere else in England–while the new is so touristy-new.

An old facade of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre…

…attached to the more recent building extension…

… surrounded by a very modern park. Doesn’t this photo look like it could be from Anywhere, USA?

I loved the adaptation of Julius Caesar put on by the RSC. It was set in an unnamed modern-day African country, and so much about the production was brilliantly done. Great sound effects and music, powerful acting, seamless staging. The only thing I thought it could have benefited from was including an intermission–especially because the play deals with such intense themes and emotions, a bit of fresh air in between would have been welcome reprieve. (Read a full review by The Guardian here.)

The town’s public library, built with donations from Andrew Carnegie.

The birthplace of Shakespeare!

We wanted to see Anne Hathaway’s cottage too, but it turned out to be about a 30-minute walk from the town centre, and we wouldn’t have had time to make it there and back in time to catch our train to London. So we just ambled around among the throngs of tourists and tried to imagine this town 450 years ago. Standing in front of this carefully preserved building, it wasn’t hard to do.

Holy Trinity Stratford-upon-Avon, which houses Shakespeare’s grave.

In sum: If I were to redo the trip, I think I would have left enough time to go to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, as I’ve heard the garden is lovely. But the best part of the trip was the play–definitely catch a production if and when you go! When you’re watching the play, you are in a world of Shakespeare’s imagination. It doesn’t get more epic than the rise and fall of kings, the triumphs of love, the certainty of death, the depths of despair. Having left a legacy larger than life, William Shakespeare in real life is a less interesting study, especially since a good bit of it is conjecture.

The trip was really affordable, even on a student budget–£25 per person covered our roundtrip transportation and theatre tickets! By bus, the trip takes about 3 hours from London. However, the train wasn’t much quicker, taking 2.5 hours to get back to London. Seriously, the traffic jams along the freeway, and the slow crawl of a local train… at times I felt like I could have walked faster!

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