Shakespeare’s Birthplace Pt 1
Shakespeare’s Birthplace – a House, Museum and Garden Entertainment – Part One
We passed Birthplace on the Hop On Hop Off Bus which stopped at the end of the road, just around the corner. In the sunshine, we bimbled toward an ice cream and sat to enjoy and watch the world go by for a time before setting off to explore.
Seen from the town side, Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a lovely old building, oozing oodles of charm and character. I was lucky enough to grab a break in the passers-by to get a picture of Bear outside, on his own.
Timber frames and an area of exposed (but protected) wattle and daub.
To the left corner of the property was this commemorative stone.
We showed our tickets and entered the first part, a museum and a cinema room with an interesting, modern take on the bard’s works. We sat and watched for fifteen minutes (a loop) as youngsters performed famous lines. Time for a mooch. A bust of William on his works and an odd piece in carved Siberian cedar pine called Sculpture of William Shakespeare by Leonty Usov, 2010, Tomsk, Russia. The split in Shakespeare’s head represents the question, ‘To be or not to be’ from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1. We took in the ‘stuff that interested us and here is a selection of information boards in the order they were presented.
The First Folio: This is one of three First Folios cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The First Folio, or to give it its full title Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s work. It was published in 1623 by his fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell. Without it we would have lost more than half of Shakespeare’s plays.
It is thought that between 750 and 1000 copies of the First Folio were printed, and the method of hand-printing used means that no two copies are the same. In 1623 a copy cost £1 if bound or 15 shillings unbound. To put this in perspective, a Stratford-upon-Avon School Teacher then earned about £20 a year.
Around 230 First Folios have survived and are among the most valuable books in the world.
Details: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, written by WIlliam Shakespeare, printed in 1623 by William and Isaac Jaggard, and Edward Blount, London. Once in the library collection of Betram, 4th Lord Ashburnham, this copy is known as the Ashburnham Folio. It was rebound during the 1800s, but is otherwise a near perfect edition.
The list of Shakespeare’s works.
Shakespeare’s London was dangerous, manic and bursting with creativity. The world of the theatre reflected this. Being an actor himself, Shakespeare knew how to please the audiences of his day. He understood the actors he wrote for: what the boys playing the women could do with the poetry and the jokes, and how his friends could play the leading roles he created.
Shakespeare was fortunate to have wealthy Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, as his patron. His poems Venus & Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) are dedicated to him. As his reputation and fame grew he was able to become an actor-manager with a share in the Globe Theatre, built in 1599. Shakespeare was invited to perform at court for Elizabeth I and he and his colleagues took part in the procession for King James I’s coronation in 1603.
From his humble origins in Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare went on to write 37 plays, 154 sonnets and 5 titled poems – leaving us a legacy of nearly a million words of text.
Court of Recordings proceedings, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1553 – 1601. The Court of Record provided a venue for the settling of civil disputes, for example small debts. It was frequently used by local businessmen. William’s father, John Shakespeare, appeared several times. Entries in this volume describe him as a glover, a yeoman farmer and a ‘whittawer’ – a worker in white leather.
The Book of Common Prayer, 1596, provided the format for Church of England religious services. This copy contains two signatures, ‘W Shakespeare’ and ‘William Shakespeare’, leading to speculation that he may once have owned it. They are now widely believed to be later forgeries. Printed by the deputies of Christopher Barker, London, England.
The Methuen Shakespeare. Sculpture based on the Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare by Judy Methuen. 2014. I shower a welcome on ye – welcome all. All is True (Henry VIII) Act 1 Scene 4. Judy Methuen has been working in the world of visual arts for the past 30 years. Based in Warwickshire, her creative output is wide-ranging and includes painting, sculpture and costume production.
Portrait of William Shakespeare’s wife. Nathaniel Curzon. 1708. Digital image on canvas. Modern reproduction of the pen and ink original owned by Colgate University, USA. This may be the only surviving portrait of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. It was discovered inside a copy of the Third Folio of William Shakespeare’s works and might have been traced from a lost Elizabethan original. Reproduced by permission of Special Collections and University Archives, Colgate University Libraries, USA.
Portrait of a lady, possibly William Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. Artist unknown. 1690s. Oil on canvas. Possibly a painting of Elizabeth Hall in later life when she married Sir John Barnard, her second husband, in 1649 and died in 1670. This portrait once belonged to Thomas Hart, a descendant of Shakespeare’s sister Joan.
Taking a break in the garden............
..........we were thoroughly entertained by members of a local theatre group who did “famous bits by request”. They swapped roles for the balcony scene, for a laugh and the chap had us in hysterics as he camped up poor Juliet.
Shakespeare’s Family: William’s parents were John and Mary Shakespeare. John was the son of a tenant farmer from south Warwickshire. As a young man he moved from the countryside to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, learning the trade of a glover and later running his own business.
In 1552 he was one of several people fined for creating a muck heap here on Henley Street, where in 1566 he bought a family home. A year later he married Mary Arden and William, their eldest son, was born here in 1564.
John and Mary were ambitious for themselves and their family. John’s business interests included glove making, wool dealing and moneylending. He also performed various civic roles, rising to become Bailiff of the town (similar to Mayor) in 1568.
Like his father, William grew up to be a clever businessman. By about 1592 he was part of a vibrant theatre community in London. His success enabled him to buy a coat of arms for John in 1596. The following year he purchased New Place, the largest house in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Family Ties: William Shakespeare grew up surrounded by his younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund, and sisters Joan and Anne. Sadly, when William was a teenager, Anne died aged 7. To mark her death, their father paid for the funeral bell to be rung and for a special cloth – a pall – to cover her coffin.
Of his brothers, Gilbert was closest to William in age and they probably attended the local grammar school together. When they grew up, he helped William with business matters in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 1602 William purchased 107 acres of land and a note on the sale papers reads: Sealed and deliv(er)ed to Gilbert Shakespeare.
Watching travelling players performing in the town probably gave William and his siblings their first experience of theatre. His youngest brother, Edmund, followed him into the theatrical world as an actor in London.
William’s sister Joan remarried in Stratford-upon-Avon. She outlived him, the only sibling to do so, and he left her his clothes, a life tenancy in part of the family home on Henley Street, and £20.
Family Tree:- William Shakespeare was the oldest surviving child of John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden. The couple had two daughters who died as babies before William was born, and then went on to have five more children. Shakespeare was born in the same year that plague hit the town of Stratford-upon-Avon and he was lucky to survive.
At the age of 18, William married Anne Hathaway who lived in nearby Shottery. They had three children – Susanna and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. Like his parents, he suffered the loss of a child when his son Hamnet died aged 11.
Shakespeare lived to know one of his four grandchildren. Elizabeth Hall was his only grandchild to marry. She had no children, so there are no direct descendants of William Shakespeare.
Timeline we saw as we left the museum: 1552. John Shakespeare is fined on 29 April for leaving a pile of muck outside his house in Henley Street, known today as the Birthplace.
1557. John Shakespeare marries Mary Arden. Mary was a land-owner, having inherited her father’s farm the year before her marriage.
1564. William Shakespeare is born, the third child of eight and the eldest surviving son.
1571. From about the age of 7, William Shakespeare attended the local Grammar School, established by King Edward VI to offer all of the town’s boys free education. There he learnt Latin and Greek, which taught him how powerful language can be. He probably left school around the age of 16.
1582. In November William Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer.
1583. Susanna, William’s first child is born and baptised on 26 May 1583.
1585. Shakespeare’s twins, Hamnet and Judith, are born and baptised on 2 February 1585.
1596. William Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet dies aged 11 and is buried on 11 August 1596.
1597. William Shakespeare purchases New Place, the largest residential house in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, for about £120.
1601. William's father, John Shakespeare, dies.
1607. Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna marries John Hall, a respected physician, on 5 June 1607 in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The couple live at Hall’s Croft until the death of WIlliam Shakespeare in 1616, when they move into New Place.
1608. Shakespeare’s mother Mary dies. Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall is born and baptised on 21 February 1608. She was the only one of Shakespeare’s grandchildren to be born in his life-time.
1609. Shakespeare’s Sonnets are published for the first time.
1616. WIlliam Shakespeare dies and is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.
1623. Anne, Shakespeare’s widow, dies age 67 on the 6th of August 1623.
1623. November/December Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies is published for the first time. Known today as the First Folio.
Shakespeare’s Life. William Shakespeare’s life began here in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. Although his career as an actor, theatre manager and playwright took him to London, Shakespeare remained a country boy at heart. He returned here often to visit his family, use his library and to write in familiar surroundings.
You are about to enter the house where Shakespeare was born, the place he played with his brothers and sisters as a child. It is where he spent his early adult life, where his children were born and is the house he inherited from his father.
His family life at the Birthplace helped form Shakespeare into the genius he became.
I am old and fragile please do not shake my branches......Bear saw the sign by the tree first, thought it highly appropriate and posed..... Approaching the side door of Birthplace, we could see the tiny windows.
In through the door of the part of the property where the Bard was born.