Saturday the 23rd of April marked not only the birthday of William Shakespeare but also the 400th anniversary of his death. To celebrate the event I’m taking a look back at my visit to Shakespeare’s England last September when I visited his hometown Stratford-upon-Avon and his workplace, the Globe Theatre in London. Though there were a lot of non-Shakespearean activities in between, the influence of the Bard was no doubt a defining feature of that trip.
Getting into that Shakespeare feeling
My first weekend was spent in London. The main reason for going there was nothing short of a performance of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays: Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre. I do have to admit that watching that show didn’t have much to do with a desire to see Shakespeare, but everything with a certain actor by the name of Benedict Cumberbatch playing the title role. Still, it was the perfect opening for what was to come next.
The one London destination you can’t miss as a fan of the Bard is Shakespeare’s Globe. I went there for a guided tour and the exhibition. It contained a lot of information about the man and his famous theatre. But for me, nothing could beat the experience of finally entering the building and getting to see the stage up close.
Exploring Shakespeare’s Globe
When I came back to London a week later, after travelling the English countryside for a bit, I returned to the Globe to see a play: Measure for Measure. I was accompanied by my long-distance friend Amy, whom I met in London for a long-overdue reunion. She’s as much into Shakespeare as I am, so we could fangirl together about seeing a play of his in the actual Globe theatre.
Naturally, we opted to become “groundlings”. That’s the part of the audience standing in the yard, rather than sitting in the ranks. According to my theatre tour guide of the first visit, this is the best way to get the true Shakespeare feeling. Plus, it’s cheap. Where else in London can you get to the theatre for 10 pounds? Although standing gets exhausting after a while, especially having spent the whole day walking around London and already having sore feet, the experience is more than compensating for it.
I can’t begin to describe the atmosphere of the Globe. The play started with the actors running through the yard in the middle of the audience, pushing through the people and interacting with audience members so we all felt like part of the play. Even after the action transferred onto the stage, the feeling of being a part of it didn’t stop. Maybe it’s because of the standing, or the possibility of getting right up to the stage, but the crowd seems to be much more inclined to cheer, boo, and generally loudly express their opinion of what’s going on. Everyone is completely immersed in the show. It was amazing.
What makes the Globe different
If you’re like me, and it drives you crazy when people constantly get up during a performance to top up their drink, or get a snack, or go to the loo, or who knows what (and they seem to do that much more in England than in Germany, as German theatres don’t usually allow food and drink inside the auditorium), you should really consider going to the Globe. Not because people don’t do it there. They do it all the time. But because it won’t bother you as much. It seems to somehow become a part of the whole experience.
The audience is standing, so there is more movement anyway. In fact, in most cases it was actors coming through that caused the commotion. You can hardly complain about being pushed around when it is the artists themselves who do it. And isn’t the audience of Shakespeare’s time renowned for having been somewhat rowdy anyway? The Globe is unlike anything else, and if you find yourself in London with only the slightest interest in theatre, go watch a play there. You won’t regret it.
The heart of Shakespeare’s England: Stratford-upon-Avon
Of course, this was not the only Shakespeare experience of my trip. The fangirl in me got one other wish fulfilled: going to Stratford-upon-Avon, the bard’s hometown and the heart of Shakespeare’s England. It’s only a couple of hours on the train from London, so I left in the morning and stayed for one night. The day was spent exploring the town and, most importantly, its Shakespearean history. You can visit Shakespeare’s birth house, as well as the houses of his daughter, and some of his contemporaries. They’re all part of the Shakespeare birthplace trust (book online if you want a discount!). The one thing that’s free is the Holy Trinity Church, with Shakespeare’s grave.
Shakespeare wherever you look
Stratford is a beautiful little place, with a river and lake, many parks and greens, cute little shops and restaurants. But of course, it is the Shakespereana you see every step of the way which makes it famous. You encounter it everywhere, and it seemed to me as though a great part of Stratford’s population lives off the Bard in one way or another.
At his birth house, I met the actress who performs Shakespeare scenes chosen by the tourists. I had been on a tour through Dartmoor and Cornwall in the week before I came to Stratford, and she was a friend of my tour guide. He had told her I was coming, and that way we got into a conversation in between her performances. She was an impressive actress, knowing scenes from the majority of Shakespeare plays and brilliant at performing them. She told me she was just about to start her own theatre company, but unfortunately, she didn’t tell me what it’s called, or I would totally advertise it here. She’d deserve it.
After that I got one more full Shakespeare performance before I had to leave. If I go to Stratford I just have to watch a play by its favourite son, don’t I? Henry V at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre made it three Shakespeare plays in two weeks. And I left town the next morning with the fixed determination to come back to Stratford as soon as possible, because I still didn’t have enough of Shakespeare’s England. After all, we’re now in Shakespeare’s anniversary year. That simply screams for another visit, doesn’t it?
Have you visited Shakespeare’s England? How did you like it? Any other Shakespeare-related places in England I should go and see? Share in the comments!