I was in Birmingham last week and here’s an account of how I spent my happening weekend.
On Saturday we drove to Stratford upon Avon which is the birthplace of the Bard of Avon- William Shakespeare. The drive through the countryside was a welcome relief from the noisy traffic of London. The old Victorian homes, the barns, the sheep grazing in the pastures and the horses made a pleasant sight. It is autumn and the leaves turning red, orange and yellow made a memorable sight.
Stratford is a settlement near the river Avon which is a small canal by Indian standards- but most ‘rivers’ here are rather disappointing in terms of their span. The house Shakespeare was born in is kept in authentic state- perhaps possible because Shakespeare was a celebrity in his own lifetime.
I was accompanied by my 10 year old nephew Krishan, who kept me wonderfully informed with nuggets from British history which I was unaware of. You start the exhibition where an account is given of his father John Shakespeare who was a glove maker and was accomplished in making white leather. He was a rich man, and the house is rather pompous for that time. It has a parlour where a bed is kept and you wonder why it is so small that even I couldn’t fit in. And then you are told that in times of curfew, they were told to put out the fire, so they slept sitting up to conserve heat! Amazing! And it was so crowded that obviously people died frequently of plague, pleurisy and pneumonia. John Shakespeare was later the Mayor of Stratford and therefore William had a rich pampered childhood.
The Bard of Avon
In the room where Shakespeare was born, under the bed there is a small cradle sort of structure, which is like our charpai. The ropes had to be tightened when they became loose. That perhaps gave rise to the expression ‘Good night, sleep tight’! One version is that boys were dressed as girls so that the witches wouldn’t take them away- they slept there.
The other version is that before people went to bed, a pet dog was kept in the string bed. The fleas on the bed jumped onto the dog and then the dog was removed! Eeeeeks! Did that guarantee that all fleas were removed?
Tagore in Shakespeare’s house!
None of Shakespeare’s manuscripts of his plays exist. He was often accused of abandoning his family as he used to travel to and fro from Stratford to his Globe Theatre in London (like a modern day executive) where his performances were held. The Globe theatre is the only building in London which is allowed to keep its thatched roof. This is a country where they are almost paranoid about fire security and impressively the fire brigade reaches each place it has to within a maximum of three minutes. I get tired of hearing ambulances, police sirens and the fire brigade sirens all night, as my room is just adjacent to the St Thomas’ Accident and Emergency Centre.
Also you can see his will where he was upset with one of his daughters who had married against his will. He leaves her almost nothing. He left his wife no money -but his grand double bed!
Another interesting fact there is his window pane. Many greats who visited the house since the last century have scratched their names on the glass. These include Charles Dickens and other writers who were influenced by his work. The scratched glass panes are preserved for posterity.
It was rather interesting and I am posting pictures taken outside the house and of the graceful swans in the river Avon.
William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford upon Avon