William Shakespeare would be 454 years old today (23rd April 2018) and it would be 404 years since his death, which occurred on the same date as he was born fifty two years later – or is assumed to have as we only have a date for his baptism rather than actual birth.
I have been to Stratford many times and written a good deal about Shakespeare’s appearance and identity in recent posts: (http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/shakespeare-in-words-and-pictures-ii.html and http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/shakespeare-in-words-and-pictures-i.html) I also went on a visit to Stratford with some fellow guides some weeks ago in order to visit Shakespeare’s School and New Place, the house he lived in during his later years, and where he probably died. There are a lot of ‘probably’ in Shakespeare as we do not have much concrete evidence of events in his life. That has not stopped people speculating, of course.
So little evidence do we have, in fact, that we cannot be absolutely sure that he attended the Stratford school which stands opposite New Place. There are no written mentions of his name in the Stratford records between his baptism in 1564 and his marriage to Anne Hathaway eighteen years later. It is, however, inconceivable that he studied anywhere other than the school in Stratford, his father having the right to send him there for free because of his position in the town, a position he lost after John Shakespeare’s Catholic sympathies became obvious at a time when the country was turning Protestant.
That does not stop the school from cashing in on the Shakespeare connection and the assumption he went there. They open up at eleven in the morning to visitors and even have a school master who teaches visitors a bit of Latin, the language Will would have learned in. We had the chance to use a quill pen and see how the boys were educated in the sixteenth century. Girls were not invited as it was not considering worth educating females. Don’t judge too harshly. That was then, this is now. So successful have these visits to Shakespeare’s school (assumed) been that they have risen to number three on the all-important Trip Advisor site, which is so important in the travel/tourism business these days.
I rather preferred the visit to New Place, however, which stands just opposite, although the original house has long gone, the victim of the ire of a local priest the Reverend Francis Gastrell, who pulled it down in a fit of pique in 1759 when he got tired of the sightseers. So hated was his name that no-one was allowed to use it for years in Stratford. Our guide Anne told us all about this priest who refused to worship at the shrine of Shakespeare when we visited there. The house has displays of Elizabethan costumes, a lovely garden and the Jansen portrait of Shakespeare, although this is only ‘probably’, maybe only ‘possibly’.
The problem for guides is that there are more and more places to see and less and less time to see them. Hopefully, I will get the chance to take people to these new places (and to New Place) on an in depth visit to Stratford but it is more likely to be the usual suspects.