William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616.
During his life he wrote 38 plays, including several of the finest in the English language, and many sonnets and other poems.
We don’t know much about his life – he wasn’t all that high regarded during his lifetime – but there are several places closely associated with him and his works.
Here are some of the most important.
Stratford Upon Avon, a pretty town in the midlands of England, was Shakespeare’s
home at the beginning and towards the end of his life.
Hence many of our Shakespeare connected places are near Stratford including his birthplace, a half timbered house in Henley Street.
Now a museum, it has been lovely restored to its original condition, where William’s
father, John, plied his trade as a glove maker and wool trader.
Next door is the Shakespeare Centre, home of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, a charity that promotes knowledge of the playwright and looks after many of the locations in this article.
Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall
Between 1571 and 1578 the young William Shakespeare attended King Edwards VI School based in the 15th century Guildhall in central Stratford.
The Guildhall schoolroom is therefore where he did most of his schooling, and can now be visited thanks, again, to the work of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Guilds were powerful medieval societies which controlled much of the commercial and civic life of many of England’s towns and cities. The Guild of the Holy Cross in Stratford was one such guild.
Local worthies paid an annual fee, after which they were an important part of the civic management of the town. Most Guilds had headquarters, Guildhalls, which is where Guild members could see and be seen.
The Stratford Guildhall was built between 1418 and 1420 and so was quite old even in Shakespeare’s time. It was a major part of the life of the city and the school, and was refurbished between 2013 and 2016.
It is now a major tourist attraction in its own right.
The Trust also puts on many events including re-enactments of Tudor lessons; details can be found on https://shakespearesschoolroom.org.
The school is still going strong and indeed still holds lessons in the Guildhall; all pupils get the chance at least once to study in William Shakespeare’s classroom.
I’d imagine that all these lucky students find it quite magical to follow in the footsteps of their school’s most famous ex-pupil.
Shakespeare’ Globe, London
Shakespeare spent much of his adulthood in London working on and performing in plays. He was particularly involved with the Globe Theatre where it was rumoured to have acted and where many of his plays were first performed.
The original Globe Theatre built in 1599 on the south bank of the Thames. It was destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt soon after and then demolished in 1644. In the 1980s the actor and director Sam Wannamaker decided to build a replica.
Its design was based on academic research and testimonies from the time and Wannamaker’s aim was to recreate the experience of a theatre goer in Elizabethan times. It was built as a working theatre and produces many different (not all Shakespeare) plays all year round.
It’s a great place to visit; you can even recreate the true Elizabethan experience by standing in the groundings (standing-only seating in front of the stage).
Shakespeare’s Globe is the perfect place to see Shakespeare’s plays as the Elizabethans would have experienced it.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, lived as a girl in this picture-perfect cottage in the village of Shottery, just outside Stratford.
The idyllic house and gardens is now a lovingly restored museum and can be visited by the public. Little is known of Anne or the marriage, other than it was one she was pregnant at the time of her wedding.
It was not acceptable for a woman of her standing – she was one of eight children of a local landowner – to not marry on becoming pregnant. And so William was bound to marry her.
Not long after, he moved to London to follow his chosen theatre career. One indicator of the perhaps distant nature of the marriage is that it is considered unlikely that she ever visited him there.
Nevertheless William did visit her regularly and, indeed, they had two children together. It is perhaps unfortunate for her that her legacy is her father’s farmhouse, now known as Anne Hathaway’s cottage, which has become a must see for all those interested in the Bard and his life and times.
Legend has it that Shakespeare was caught poaching deer at this pretty estate park when a young man. Overlooking the Avon river near Stratford, this has been home to the Lucy family for over 900 years.
According to the story, the young William was brought before Sir Thomas Lucy as local magistrate after his capture. It is said the bumptious Justice Shallow in Henry IV was based on Lucy.
The park is now owned by the National Trust and includes a splendid House dating from Tudor times, but expanded and refurbished lavishly in the Victorian Era.
The house and park is a lovely place to visit even without the Shakespeare connection,
We’ll end, appropriately, with Shakespeare’s rather simple grave in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon.
Its gravestone famously contains a curse aimed at potential grave robbers:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.
Soon after his death a funerary monument was commissioned and is a more impressive memorial to this literary genius.
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