Saturday, October 17, 2009

Piece of Shakespeare

"I walk slowly, but I never walk backward." -Abraham Lincoln

My view of catching up has fallen flat, but I don’t want to leave you out of anything—not that you’d really know if I did. (But I’d know.)

3 October 2009

Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born, probably where he grew up, where he was married, where his wife lived, where he came to during the theatre’s ‘off’ season, where he retired to, and where he died. Funny that a man whose work has made it across the world and through centuries should have lived mainly in only two cities: where he was born, and where he worked. It reminds me that you don’t have to go far to make a difference.

It’s hard to go back to the beginning of October because so much has happened since then, but I’ll certainly give it a try. The pictures help, so maybe I’ll start with those.

We drove into Stratford-Upon-Avon with a view of the river; the river made more beautiful by its name, no doubt. Avon really is a good name for a river. It still amazes me that a man who gave so much to literature and to theatre is such a mystery. There are lesser men who have volumes written about their lives—some of which they wrote themselves—but Shakespeare, nothing. Sure we know enough: that he was born in Stratford, and that he worked in London, but we don’t know how he met Anne, or why in her mid-twenties she was interested in an 18-year-old boy. We don’t know anything about what Shakespeare did from 21 to 28 years old, and we don’t know how he felt about his family, who his friends really were, where he enjoyed eating on the weekends, or what his favorite thing was to do in the summer when he went home. It seems that it’d be easier not to glorify him so much if we knew what sort of a man he really was.

I’m sure if I were sitting across from myself, I’d play devil’s advocate and say that we can learn a lot about how he felt about the world, and the sorts of things he enjoyed by reading and viewing his plays. But as a person who writes, I know that my stories don’t always accurately depict what I personally believe. In fact, in many ways my writings depict the very things I don’t believe and in some twisted way reveal what I see as truth. But no one could really know. Even if I blatantly stated what I believed it probably wouldn’t be wholly accurate. And in saying that, that’s probably why it doesn’t matter that we don’t know much about Shakespeare and that Stratford-Upon-Avon is really enough.

We went to Mary Arden’s house first, which was interesting, but unhelpful since the most interesting parts of it were what I imagined in my head. Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother, and we visited the property where she grew up. I imagine that her family lived there even after she was married and had children and that perhaps she brought her son William to visit her parents or siblings and that perhaps as a child he ran around the meadows and haystacks, and perhaps helped with the chores. Purely conjectures. I see now why sketchy pasts likes Shakespeare’s would be so inviting for film-makers.

I know this picture looks as if I’m rushing things, but I just liked the lining up of his life (minus the seven-year “lost years”).  CLICK ON IT.  Please.

First his birthplace: Here’s the problem—they tried to make it look as it MIGHT have looked when Shakespeare was born there: period furniture, bright drapery and colorful linens, toys, tools, wallpaper—the works. But to me, it looked like Disneyland. I’d have much preferred empty rooms; I’d have preferred reverence and contemplation. I couldn’t feel ‘Shakespeare was born here.’ Instead, I felt, ‘Shakespeare was born in a place like this.’ This mostly stems from the fact that I still feel like I’m visiting places LIKE the original, rather than THE original. But that’s just the problem—these places try too hard and instead of coming off as authentic, they come off as insincere. It was more impressive that Ralph Waldo Emerson might have stood where I stood while visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace. I feel more of Shakespeare at the decades-old Globe Theatre than at the centuries-old birthplace. A purist would probably murder me.

We walked past the grammar school where Shakespeare probably attended school: where he learned to read and spell, where he learned sentence syntax and punctuation, where he learned how to write, about poetry, and how to tell a story. I would trade my visit to the birthplace for anything, but I preferred walking just outside of the school.

Anne Hathaway’s cottage was quaint and pretty. I could imagine a woman there. Once again, I preferred imagining to the information they provided at the cottage—not so much about Anne, but about the people who lived in her cottage after her. I suppose people just desire to get as close as they can.

Shakespeare’s last house—the house where he died—was torn down, but they now have a park to commemorate Shakespeare’s death place, only yards from his birthplace. One doesn’t go too far in life, do they? No matter where you die, you were born on the same planet, just yards away. The world isn’t quite so big as we tend to think it. The more you see, the more you realize it’s closer together than you thought. Not that I’ve seen anything near what others have seen. But I’ve realized this in London: it’s such a big city, but as you visit places, you realize how it all connects, that each tube stop is closer to the last than you thought, that you can see St. Paul’s from a mile away, that if you can find just one street you recognize you’re going in the right direction, and that if you’re lucky one day the whole thing will just be a map in your head.

[End of tangent.]

Lastly we paid .50 pence to see Shakespeare’s Burial place. That was worth it because I saw something real: the small font where Shakespeare was baptized as a baby. It was off in the corner, practically worn away, but a piece of paper was posted in glass beside it and it read a list of names baptized, and one of them was William Shakespeare. They didn’t cover the font in garland or lights, they didn’t have giant neon signs pointing to it, it was just in the corner under a stained glass window beside the quire seats. Thank you for the sincerity. The part of real life; a real part of Shakespeare.

I got to touch it.

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