Unlike many of the other trips the class took Stratford-upon-Avon was unique in that the day was unplanned. After arriving in the town the class was released with the instruction to meet back at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the evening for a showing of Henry IV: Part I. This was the only planned part of the day, the rest was left up to each student to decide what interested them the most and what they wanted to do and see. Suggestions from professors were to see the public library, the church where Shakespeare is buried, take the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus, take a boat ride down the Avon, and see the various houses of Shakespeare, his parents, and his wife.
I chose, along with a group of friends, to start the day off with the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour to get a grasp of exactly what else there is to see around the town. The tour took about 2 hours but was wonderful. The Hop-On-Hop-Off buses are large double decker red buses, the top level is open air and each seat has headphone jack outlets. These are for the passengers because along with being a bus tour it uses a recorded audio tour to inform the passengers of the different stops and points of interest that they pass along the bus route. Not only that but the audio tour provides information on Shakespeare, the time period he lived in, and different sayings from him or the time period. Sayings such as ‘up on the shelf’, ‘a frog in the throat’, ‘sleep tight’, ‘fancy boy’, and ‘toy boy’. ‘Up on the shelf’ refers the shelf or higher loft in the house where the daughters would sleep until they were married and went to live with their husbands, so a woman who was still unmarried was considered to be still ‘up on the shelf’. ‘A frog in the throat’ refers to when doctors would dangle a certain type of frog down a person’s throat when they had a sore throat, as it turns out the frogs slime or sweat contained a type of antibiotic that was treating the throat. ‘Sleep tight’ is when a person pulls the ropes under the mattress tight before they go to bed so that the mattress doesn’t sag and the ropes stay tight giving the person a good night’s sleep. ‘Fancy boy’ and ‘toy boy’, well. Those are fairly self-explanatory, they just made me laugh. Especially when Shakespeare was referred to as Anne Hathaway’s toy boy because she was so much older than him.
After the bus tour we took a relaxing boat ride down the river, and then made our way to the church to see Shakespeare’s grave inside. His grave is the only one in the church to be cursed. It is said that Shakespeare had a curse put on his grave to keep anyone from moving his bones. We only just made it inside before the church closed for the evening. In fact, even though we made it inside and were not there for long, we almost got locked in! Soon after we entered the main doors were shut, locked, and chained. There was a side exit that we had to locate to exit, but for a little while we thought we might have to spend the night. For dinner the group of use went to the Dirty Duck/Black Swan pub that has been there since Shakespeare’s time and was frequented by actors. Looking back it was still one of the best meals of the entire trip. Everyone was happy with what they had, the food was great, and the Pimm’s Cups were simple and refreshing.
Then came the cherry on top. Henry IV: Part I. I had never seen Shakespeare live before and it was an amazing experience. I was filled with excitement and awe. I loved every minute and I wish we had been able to see Part II as well! The entire day was full of fun and information but the biggest thing I learned and that stood out the most was how much seeing the play live reinforced the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen not read. They come alive so much more than you can even believe when talented actors are invested in the outcome.