Shakespeare’s Birthplace Pt 2
Shakespeare’s Birthplace – a House, Museum and Garden Entertainment – Part Two
We stepped into Birthplace House and were welcomed by a lady in a costume of the period who gave us an introduction. To the left was this fireplace, to the right an old settle, above which, were pictures and a history of the building (we saw more throughout the house but have put them altogether in the Birthplace, House History blog). In the next room – the parlour, to the left a laid table, to the right a bed and beyond, a door to the hall.
The Parlour. ‘They sit conferring by the parlour fire’ The Taming of the Shrew 5.2.107. The parlour was a cosy space for the Shakespeare family to gather and talk in the evenings, and entertain any visitors. It would have been the grandest room in the house in order to show off the family’s social status and hospitality to their guests.
The family’s ‘best bed’, the most valuable item of furniture in the house, was displayed in this room. It could be used as an occasional guest bed, or simply present a show of wealth.
The Hall. “Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table”. As You Like It 2.7.105. The Shakespeare family would have enjoyed their main meal here in the hall, around 11am. WIlliam attended school from 6am and travelled home for lunch.
In Tudor England, detailed ‘sumptuary laws’ dictated what clothes could be worn and how food should be consumed for each social class. The middle classes, including the Shakespeares, were permitted two courses for the main meal, each consisting of several shared dishes.
The meal would include bread, pies, pottage, fish and meat – although Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesdays were classified as ‘fasting’ or ‘fish’ days where eating meat was prohibited.
The next room to the hall was The Glover’s Workshop “Does he not wear a great round beard, like a glover’s paring knife?” The Merry Wives of Windsor 1.4.18-19. Shakespeare’s father John made and sold gloves in this workshop.
John was also a ‘whittawer’, making his own leather from the skins of deer, horses, goats, sheep and hounds. In the town tannery the skins were tanned in pits, using substances such as urine. Hair was removed using a ‘pairing knife’.
When John bought this part of the building in 1575 it was known as the ‘Woolshop’, John later seems to have lived up to his name, becoming an illegal dealer in wool alongside his more respectable crafts and positions on the Stratford council.
Squirrels and Fur Trim. During the 16th century the humble squirrel played many parts, from pet to decorative trimming. Their fur and pelts, which were known as great miniver (or Vair if sewn together), were used to decorate sleeves, line cloaks and to add ornamentation and finery to the edges of expensive garments, hats and even gloves.
Although the term ‘grey squirrel’ was used by the Tudors, they were not referring to the grey squirrels that we know today. The modern American grey squirrel, now common in the UK, was only introduced to English soils in the 1870s. The grey squirrel of the 16th century was actually the winter coat of the native red squirrel.
The pure white miniver fur (from the belly) could also be sourced from ermine and, along with great miniver, came under the strict sumptuary laws. These rules attempted to restrict the sumptuousness of dress in order to curb extravagance, protect fortunes, and make clear the necessary and appropriate distinctions between levels of society.
Here in the workshop was a grey squirrel pelt to handle, this gave us an idea of how the red squirrel fur would have felt like. Very soft and luxurious. Agreed.
Gentlemen’s Gloves. 1600s. Kid skin, coloured thread silk. Museum Collection, Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.
An interesting seven-year apprenticeship completion certificate from 1688.
We left this busy little workshop by the steep stairs in the far left corner.
The Boys Room. ‘Fairy king, attend and mark: I do hear the morning lark.’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream 4.1.92-93. From the age of five, Shakespeare shared this bedchamber with his younger brothers Gilbert and Richard, whilst his sisters slept in the room above the workshop (now where the Signed Birthroom Window and bits stand).
The Tudor world was saturated with stories and superstitions which must have captivated the young children. Demons and fairies were believed most likely to appear at night, whilst bad dreams were caused by a spirit called the ‘night mare’. The children would have seen their bed as a safe refuge against these spirits.
Such superstitions clearly influenced Shakespeare, with supernatural figures featuring prominently in plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Familiar stories such as Metamorphoses by Ovid and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales would also have a significant impact on Shakespeare’s works.
The fireplace was to the right of the boys bed, to the left, the doorway into their parents room. Bartholomew Baby (Wooden Doll): Style of wooden doll that could have arms added, and clothing made for them in a fashionable style. First sold at St Bartholomew’s Fair, hence its name. The fair was held in August every year from 1133 to 1855 in London. Wooden babies, as they were known, were not called ‘dolls’ until the 1700’s. ‘Dolls’ of the 1500’s could be made from wood, cloth or metals such as pewter.
Above the boys bed was an attic workroom.
Shakespeare’s parents bedroom. (Canopy currently undressed the information board reads) Conservation Uncovered. ‘Their ragged curtains poorly are let loose’. Henry V: Act 4, Scene 2. Do excuse the undraped bed, but we are currently replacing the replica textiles in this room. This work gives you the opportunity to see the construction and hidden areas of the framework not usually seen by visitors.
The previous drapes, curtains and bedcovers have suffered from light damage, which has caused the textile fibres to break down and the material to deteriorate. Natural fibres are also very tempting to clothes moths, causing even further damage.
The new hangings will look and feel like linen or wool, but are being made from a synthetic fabric, making it resistant to light and pest damage. This will extend the life of them far beyond natural ones.
To the left of the bed we saw the pull-out truckle bed, the supportive ropes loose with the tightening tool – where we get the saying ‘Sleep Tight’, to the right of the bed was the cot and always handy, the chamber pot. To the right was a large fireplace and beyond, the steep stairs down.
Staircase and storage area.
A sitting area that held lots of the house history (own blog). Fairly large room with fireplace (unsure) and the Drinking Parlour.
The herb garden, the large lawned area and after some more of the fun entertainment we exited through the shop.
ALL IN ALL INCREDIBLE TO SEE A LITTLE OF WHAT WAS THE BARD’S BACKSTORY
VERY QUAINT AND REMARKABLY PRESERVED