Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Shakespeare's hometown April 6, 2010

Shakespeare's childhood home

We spent three days and two nights in Shakespeare's hometown over Easter weekend. The weather forecast was calling for heavy rain all weekend. But I couldn't stand to waste our first long weekend here without seeing something. I chose this because I knew it would be a lot of looking inside rather than so much outdoor stuff. Little did I know that we were going to walk our legs off the whole time! But we were in luck because it only rained a couple of times off and on and otherwise was very nice out. The reason I say that 'I chose this' is because Joe is leaving all the planning for touring up to me. He wants to see everything but is happy to let me do the researching and choosing.

This blog will be a little history lesson too so be prepared. Firstly, Shakespeare's town is called Stratford-upon-Avon. This name came about because of the river that runs through the town. The river was named Avon (Avon was an old Celtic word for river). Stratford was the road where one forged (crossed) the river. Hence, Stratford-upon-Avon.

We arrived early on Friday and decided to go on a tour bus that takes people around to all the pertinent sights in the town and surrounding countryside. The bus has a sound system so you can hear all about Shakespeare and the town through headphones along the way. I really like this way of doing it rather than having an actual person talking because if there are noisy people on the bus you can't hear. We were free to get off at any stop and catch the next bus that comes along. They come in 1/2 hour intervals. Of course we WALKED from our hotel to the tour bus place!

During the bus ride we heard some fascinating things. They included little stories explaining where some of our terminology today comes from. They were discussing medicine and mentioned that in Shakespeare's day (16th century) the barbers were the only men who could perform surgery. They would advertise this by putting a red and white pole outside their shop. The red signified blood and the white signified bandages. A doctor was someone with medical schooling, but did not perform surgeries. Only the barbers were allowed to do that. To this day in England, doctors are addressed as such but surgeons are still called 'Mr.'

Of course we know that cures for illnesses and diseases were just plain nutty back in those days. A common cure for a sore throat was to hang a frog upside down above the patient's mouth and drip the frog saliva down their throat. Many years later it was discovered that the frog's saliva actually had a natural antibiotic in it and did cure a sore throat. That's where the term "frog in your throat" came from.

In the 1500's scurvy was a severe problem especially with the sailors. It was determined that a lack of vitamin C led to scurvy and that eating citrus fruit was very helpful with the condition. That is why sailors were particularly affected. They would be gone for long periods of time without eating fresh fruit. So they started taking barrels and barrels of limes on board their ships. This is where the nickname 'limey' was started for Englishmen. [Some of you know that my mom is famous for using old fashioned terminology. I can still remember her asking us what kind of scurvy we had when she noticed a rash or unusual mark on our skin.]

Salt was extremely important in those days. Besides the biological need for it, it was imperative for their survival because of its use in preserving food. It was so valuable that men were often paid their wages in salt. Families would display their large piles of salt to show their wealth. So where do you think the term 'worth your salt' came from?

Throughout these little tantalizing bits of information we got off and saw several interesting places. We saw Anne Hathaway's family home. This was Shakespeare's wife. It was the home she grew up in. Her father owned many acres of land outside of the city. He would collect rent from the area farmers that used his land. Shakespeare's father was a glove maker and lived in the city, but must of also farmed some of the land. When he would travel to the Hathaway's farm once a month to pay Anne's father the rent he would take William with him. This was a fun day out for William. This is how he met Anne Hathaway. Their house is a historical site (as all the places we saw) and kept just the way it would have been in their day. I just love walking through the homes and imagining their lives back then.

Next we saw Mary Arden's family farm. Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother and it was her family home, where she grew up. It is still run as a working farm with animals and such. They had two baby lambs that were just the cutest things I've ever seen. Also they have people dressed in period dress doing the chores as they would have been done back then. Very interesting!

On Saturday we WALKED from our hotel to the center of town. That is where the house that Shakespeare was born and grew up in is. He actually died there too because he ended up living there with his family after his parents were gone. His house is right in town on an old street where cars don't drive. It is kind of like a town square with stores up and down both sides. The back of his house however faces a main road. I liked his house the best. It was first built in around 1500 and was just a little two room cottage. One small room with a stone floor and one room above it for sleeping. TINY! The fireplace in the lower room didn't have a chimney. Back in those days people didn't have money for chimneys but they had to have a fire for warmth and for cooking. So the cottage was constantly filled with smoke. This is one of the reasons for people having breathing problems and also for their shortened lives. Living until your 40's was considered a good long life.

When Shakespeare's father bought it he added on to it. It has been added on to a couple of times so that now it has the front room with a parlor off of it. The main piece of furniture in the parlor is a bed! Back in those days most people didn't have beds, they slept in pallets on the floor. If you were lucky enough to have a bed, it was for guests and displayed in the parlor where the family entertained guests and for visitors to see. Another way to show their wealth. There was also a kitchen and a big work room for his father for making his gloves. He used lamb, goat, cow, rabbit, among others hides for these gloves.

Apparently the Shakespeare's did fairly well because upstairs there was a bed in the parent's bedroom with a pull out trundle bed on the mother's side. This was for the baby of the family. Shakespeare was born in this room and would have slept in the trundle bed until he was about 5 years old and then joined his siblings in the only other bed in the house, the room next door. All the beds were very short. Most people slept in an upright position having superstitions that if they slept lying down the devil would think they were in their death positions and possibly take them!

One of the things that I just couldn't get over was the fact that we were walking on the actual floor that Shakespeare had all those years ago! It gives me goose bumps to think about it. Of course all through these houses were artifacts and things from their day. Joe and I are always some of the folks who read all the signs and displays. We both really love history.

Did you know that Shakespeare made up words when he couldn't come up with a term while writing? The English language was much smaller then and Shakespeare is credited with making up 3,000 words during his writing days. There are around 1500 of them that are common words today. For example: premeditated, remorseless, savagery, majestic, swagger, eyeball, hoodwink, lonely, excitement, discontent, cold-blooded, and accused are all words that did not appear in the English language until Shakespeare used them in his plays.

Saturday night we WALKED to a nice restaurant and had a great dinner. Afterwards we WALKED to the Royal Shakespeare Company's Courtyard Theatre there in the city and saw the play Romeo and Juliet. We've never seen a Shakespeare play and really neither one of us had a particular fondness for him. But after seeing all the history and learning so much about him over the weekend it was really a highlight at the end of our time there. The acting was very good and now I am determined to read some of his work. I have never really done that other than school assignments.

Afterwards we WALKED like all the other Brits back to our hotel. I am amazed how people WALK everywhere. But so many times you just don't have any choice. For instance, this was a huge theater but there was no parking. Not a parking lot anywhere (they call them car parks). There were just a few places on the street, and I mean few, maybe six or seven. This was one of the times it was raining and people just calmly come out of the theater, put their umbrellas up and head home! So we did the same. Our stuff hasn't gotten here yet so we only had one umbrella, but luckily I had bought one that day just in case.

Well this ends the Shakespeare part of our trip. This will end today's post. I can rattle on forever. Joe is in London today and tomorrow. He doesn't know that his underwear is hanging out on the clothesline! Before you think I'm horrible, no one can see into our backyard. Anyway, mine's out there too. hahahaha Bye


  1. That was a history lesson. Great post. The girls got your letter in the mail today. I read it out loud to them in the car. They really got a kick out of the different names for common objects. They laughed and laughed about the trolly for shopping cart. I'm sure next time we go to the store I will hear can I push the trolly? Mackenzie thought we should send you some s'more supplies. :) Take care. Tamara

  2. Thanks for the great history lesson!

    Love, Anna & Mike

  3. Oh that was so interesting...can't wait to hear about your next adventure :) Poor dad...he would DIE if he knew those underwear were out there!

  4. Sounds like you guys are having so much fun! Can't wait to hear more :)

  5. I thought you were going to say "Poor Joe doesn't know I didn't pack him any underwear"