Posts Tagged ‘hamlet’

Hamlet and High Tea

Yesterday, our Cedarville crew took an outing to the beautiful and historic Stratford-upon-Avon. This town, located about an hour and a half east of Cheltenham, is where the great playwright William Shakespeare was born, raised, and buried.  Considering that half of our group is studying Shakespeare with Dr. Wilfong, this was a perfect place to travel, and has been my most-looked-forward-to outing.

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We first stopped at the childhood cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. This is known as the most romantic of all of the protected Shakespeare cottages, because it is where the couple first courted. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the cottage was much smaller, and consisted of only two rooms; Anne’s brother added an additional ten over a period of several years, after he received the tenancy.

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The cottage and the gardens surrounding it were beautiful! Peonies, poppies, allium, and many flowers whose names I don’t know bloomed, while well-tended rows of cabbage, peas, and other vegetables sprouted nearby. Though a bit smaller, this setting was almost as beautiful as Żelazowa Wola, Chopin’s birthplace. It was touching to see how much people care about Shakespeare’s legacy, and how they have gone to so much effort to preserve the land.

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Stepping into the house was like stepping back in time. Stone slabs made up the floor in the original kitchen, and low, beamed ceilings (originally to keep in the heat) made tall visitors wary. The guides on our tour were quite informative, and provided lots of information as to how the kitchen worked and what life would have been like in the house. Although most of the furniture was from after Shakespeare’s time, all of it was still incredibly old, and told the story of a house built more than one hundred years before the United States gained her independence.

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Our next stop was Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was both baptized and buried.

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Of the churches I’ve visited so far on this trip, this was one of smallest. Nevertheless, what Holy Trinity lacked in size, it made up for in grandeur and priceless artifacts. Like the other churches, gorgeous, intricate stained glass windows covered the walls, and graves were inlaid throughout the floor. As usual, some of the most interesting artifacts lay near the altar.

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Marked with a blue cord and located in a place of honor, just in front of the altar, lied the remains of William Shakespeare, along with the remains of most of his family. This was almost surreal to see. The body of the man who people study extensively, whose plays still draw huge audiences, who completely revolutionized the English language, was right in front of us. After almost four hundred years, the corpse is now probably little more than dust, but being in the church where he was baptized, and walking in the same places where he walked still felt significant.

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To the right of the grave stood a weathered stone baptismal, where Shakespeare was christened.

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Off to the side stood a bookstand, where an old Bible was encased. At first glance, it appeared to be simply another beautiful old book, but a closer look at the nearly worn-away words on the sign revealed the book’s true significance. Not only was this book a beautiful example of the Word of God – it was a first edition of the King James Bible. Oh man. Seeing that – a book that played such a huge role in furthering Christianity in the English-speaking world – was to me more significant than seeing Shakespeare’s grave. After all, Shakespeare was just a man, who is dead. But this, a timeworn example of the living Word of God, which God uses so often to turn people’s lives around, was so much more powerful.

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After leaving the church, we trekked down into the center of Stratford and were given a few hours to explore. Many of the town’s buildings featured iconic timber-and-plaster Tudor architecture, which gave one the feeling of walking into a fairy tale. Stratford, like almost every town we have visited, was exceptionally clean, and its stores had names that fit with historic themes. There was Iago’s Jewelers, Othello’s hotel, a restaurant called The Food of Love, and a shop called Much Ado About Toys. The entire place was clever, cute, and wonderful.

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The next highlight of our day came in the late afternoon, when our entire group had the privilege of taking high tea together. What a lovely, joyous occasion it was! The first course consisted of delicious finger sandwiches, with flavor options of cucumber, egg mayonnaise, tomato & cheese, and smoked salmon. Gee, were they delicious. Having the sandwiches cut in such small sizes made you not feel guilty for eating more than one, and gave you the opportunity to try many different flavors.

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Next, we had fruitcake, scones, clotted cream, and jam. Mmmm. (Throughout the meal, we of course had English Breakfast tea.)

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The entire experience was delicate, refined (well, as refined as you can get with a group of silly Americans), and completely wonderful.

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After tea, we made our way to our final stop, and the one I had been looking forward to most – the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to see Hamlet! The theatre has been recently renovated, and sits at a gorgeous location along the River Avon.

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A view from the fourth floor of the Theatre Tower.

A view from the fourth floor of the Theatre Tower.

After picking up our tickets, a few of us took advantage of hour remaining free time to explore one of the costume exhibits in the theatre. It was especially neat because they showed how the costumes of the same characters (like Hamlet, for example) have changed throughout the years, as different producers do different interpretations on the same play. It was also neat to see costumes  worn by famous members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, like Ian McKellen (Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings), David Tennant (from Doctor Who), Patrick Stewart (from X-Men and Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Judi Dench (from…everything).

David Tennant's costume from the RSC's 2008 production of Hamlet, in which he played the title character.

David Tennant’s costume from the RSC’s 2008 production of Hamlet, in which he played the title character.

Finally, we sat down, ready to enjoy the show. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre has three levels, all of which are arranged in the round, and at steep angles, so that every member of the audience might be able to see the actors. (It reminded me of a posh version of the Globe.) I was in the second row on the highest level, which got a little dizzying at times…but even from there, I had an excellent view of the stage, and never had trouble hearing the actors.

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The show was simply amazing. High quality acting combined with modern clothing and special effects produced a breathtaking, fantastic play.

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The entire day was a huge highlight of my trip. Seeing Shakespeare’s hometown, his church, his grave, and one of his plays, having high tea, and seeing a King James Bible…it boggles my mind that we were so blessed, that we got to see so many fabulous things in one short day! I am so thankful.

Have a wonderful rest of your day!

Blessings,

Taylor

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