Attaining My Shakespearean Travel Dreams

Two woman stand with their arms triumphantly in the air in front of Shakespeare's Guild Hall and School House.
Nina and I made it to Stratford Upon Avon in England!

The Impact of Educators

I’ll never forget my English teacher, Ms. Walsh. I had her for both 10th and 12th grade and she will always be my favorite educator. She is responsible for so much of the good in my life. Mostly, giving me good reason not to continue down the path of being a perpetual fuck up. This woman inspired me to be a public school English teacher myself. 

I use so much of what she did in her class in my own classes. Ms Walsh made me feel like I was worth something, and fostered a love of writing and literature within me. She was a HUGE fan of big Willie (Shakespeare.) I credit her for igniting a fearsome passion for all things Shakespeare within my soul. 

I took her elective course on Shakespeare and became obsessed. I loved discovering his lesser known works. Ms Walsh taught us everything. I learned about Shakespeare gardens, which I had no idea existed. She was even cool in allowing us to put on a birthday party for Shakespeare in April for the whole school. The take away? I love the man – he is brilliant. And I love Ms Walsh for introducing me.

A Shakespeare garden
A Shakespeare Garden. Courtesy of Central Park website.

Shakespeare’s Impact

What many don’t realize, is that a ton of the plot lines in movies and TV shows were created by Shakespeare first. If you can get past the discomfort of the language, Shakespeare’s plots are actually REALLY interesting. They are full of rage, sex, lust, passion, and humor. He talked about modern issues before most authors including discussing racism and sexism. He wrote at least 40 plays which fall into the categories of tragedy, comedy, history, and romance. He also wrote 154 sonnets which is a style of poem.

Accurate.

Shakespeare was born and raised in the town of Stratford Upon Avon in West England. From the time I was an impressionable teenager to a 28 year old traveling to England, I dreamed of visiting SUA (Stratford Upon Avon.) I long daydreamed about the Tudor style buildings and cobblestone streets. I longed to walk among the ghosts of the bard’s time. I got the change when I visited London in the summer.

Imagine we could drink on the job?

Shakespeare’s School

The trifecta of being a Shakespeare groupie, English teacher, and perpetual student met its apex as I explored the Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall. I physically shook from excitement as I prepared to enter the building. We were made to stand in the street and wait for our “lesson” to begin. I walked up and down the road, looking at the Tudor style houses that I had been dreaming of seeing for so very long. 

Visiting the Guild Hall and Shakespeare’s childhood school. Swooooon.

I felt as though I were transported back in time. I thought about the citizens of SUA in their medieval garb. I pictured them running to and from the market, cooking up their dinners, and trying to stay clear of the drizzle that was falling from the sky. I imagined that at any moment the Bard himself would come strolling along. He would pat me on the head and offer to help me with my writing, naturally. I would offer my body as compensation for his work, even though he didn’t even ask and he would undoubtedly not be interested in me. It got really weird in my head. I was glad the tour started. 

The outside of Shakespeare's childhood school and the guild hall.
Tudor style homes in Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon!

I remember the moment I set foot in the building. I remember the exact sound my foot made as it stepped onto the dark wooden floor and the gray light from the stormy outside shone dimly into the room. The sound was of a heavy and eager foot onto a hollow floor, reverberating through centuries of history. I can still feel the welling of hot salty tears in my eyes and my heart doing its best impression of a roller coaster. A dream of mine was smack dab in the middle of becoming true. 

The guildhall served as home for the Stratford Borough Council for over four hundred years and ending in 1848. The significance and residual energy of the hall is undoubtedly palpable. 

Guild Hall and School

We walked upstairs and were transported to the 1570s. The walls were white with crude wooden beams and strips of wood abound. Long benches filled the floors of the room, and a teacher’s chair was at the head. The iconic criss crossed Tudor period windows let just enough sunlight into the room where we would be having a lesson. 

This is where Shakespeare attending school from age seven to 14. This school is effectively the institution which kindled is literary genius. 

A small recreation figure of William Shakespeare on display
Small William Shakespeare is ready for school! This is also exactly what I looked like for most of my life.

A Tudor Era Lesson

Soon, I had to pick my jaw up from off of the floor. Our “school master” had arrived and demanded our upmost attention. We were given a history of the Bard’s education. Male students of all ages were packed into this one room. Boys would be separated by group and taught by the master. 

The rest of the pupils would practice their lessons or engage in tutoring each other. I was surprised that traditional desks did not exist in Big Willie’s time. Students sat on benches just as we had done. The manner of study in this time was largely listen, repeat, and practice on your own. To do this nowadays would be considered a sin in classrooms. 

Our school master giving us a lesson in Latin. Beforehand, he taught us what Shakespeare’s education may have been like.

After learning some history and an uplifting lecture on education, we were given a lesson. We had to learn several phrases in Latin and commit them to memory. It was hilarious to watch the school master call on random students to show off what they had just learned. We were all brought back to those traumatizing days of school where you avoid eye contact with the teacher and hope he doesn’t call on you. I’m pretty intelligent, but apparently not in Latin. Thank God he didn’t call on my dumb ass. In Shakespeare’s day, he would have studied Christian based faith, English, classics, and music. 

Two women with backpacks stand on line to meet the school master in Shakespeare's school house in Stratford Upon Avon
Waiting eagerly to thank our school master for a great lesson

In the back of the school room there are traditional student desks. These were used decades after Big Willie was a student at the school. We were given the opportunity to sit down and try writing on parchment with quill and ink. It’s way harder than it looks. I would definitely be thought of as illiterate if forced to use these methods of writing. Our hard work was rewarded with scones, clotted cream and champagne.

Two scones with jam, clotted cream, and topped with blueberries. A glass of champagne sits next to it.
Scones with clotted cream and jam. A glass of champagne to accompany. Heaven.

Personally, I think every school day should begin and end in this manner.  My cousin Nina and I took some photos with our school master. True story, he made some kind of joke about spanking us with a branch. If it will get us a passing grade, so be it.

Photo with our school master.

A Night at the Globe Theater

An event that might surpass even visiting Big Willie’s school was the opportunity to see a play at the Globe theater in London. 

A couple poses for a picture in the gallery of the Globe Theater. The woman has long brown hair and is in a salmon colored shirt and white pants. The man is bald and has a blue t-shirt and jeans.
Hubby and I after seeing a performance of The Winter’s Tale at the Globe!

The Globe today is a recreation of what the original is said to look like. The ownership does everything to ensure an authentic experience. Walking into the theater, you really feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. The Globe is circular with an open center. The roof is thatched and mostly everything is made of wood. The Globe sits on the River Thames. It looks as though it has floated in from another century.

The Globe Theater, London UK

The seating is similar to that of 400 years ago in a few ways. There are still seats in the Globe toward the back where you cannot see the stage must, but still cost a decent price. This might strike you as very very odd. Back in the day, this is where royalty sat. They did not care much for seeing the stage. To royalty, the experience was about being seen by others! It was an opportunity to show off their affluence and most importantly their outfits. There are plenty of seats in the second and third ring with excellent views of the play. We sat in the second ring.

Courtesy of: London Top Sight Tours

If you don’t want to spend too much on a ticket, there is the standing area right in front of the stage. Historically, this is where the poorest of citizens would observe Shakespeare’s plays. The higher classes who sat upwards would throw their garbage down below. The groundlings would sometimes pick up the trash and throw it at actors! These tickets only cost a few quid. You can get very close to the stage, but you are unable to sit. If you come in late, you might very well get shoved to the back. If there is any kind of storm, you are not protected because the theater is circular and open in the middle.

Groundling section watching the stage
Courtesy: Brittanica

I’m sure you’ll be shocked, but I showed up pretty buzzed to the globe performance. I had been “researching” some pubs all afternoon. However, I was immediately sobered as I began watching the play, The Winter’s Tale. At the Globe theater, there are not elaborate set designs or costumes. The exquisite degree of performance is really contingent upon the talent of the actors, and wow are they talented.

My husband (left) and his best friend/London aficionado (right) after the performance. Magic!

I couldn’t help but revel in watching the audience’s reaction to the play. I did not see a single person remove their entranced gaze from the actors. I could tell that there were people who, like me, had dreamed of seeing a play at the globe for so long. I clung to their every word, laughed at every joke, and savored every moment of my time at the performance. Other than the dialogue, the Globe was SILENT. You could have heard a needle drop if one had.

Definitely three sheets to the wind when we showed up. Damn you, pubs and Pimm’s cups!

If you read my blog, you’ll know my imagination runs wild when I visit historical places. I pretended that I was transported back in time. The entire time that I watched I imagined Shakespeare off to the side of the stage watching his plays come to life. I pictured him looking up at the Queen and her court to see if she was amused. I thought of the peasants on the floor being drunk and rowdy, and I imagined myself in the midst of all of this.

What I Learned

The experiences we have as young people really impact us for a lifetime. It was my teacher in 10th grade who ignited my utter passion for all things Shakespeare. I knew from 15 years old that I wanted to visit Shakespeare’s home and the Globe theater. I never thought I would actually get to do it. I didn’t think highly of myself then, and never thought my life would include the opportunity to visit England. It was the selflessness of my teacher who inspired me to pursue a career teaching English in public schools. Having that background in education and English is what allows me to have this outlet of writing on my blog. Becoming a teacher is what allows me to pursue the experiences such as these ones. 

A perpetual student as I travel all around the world. In my glory as I just finished a lesson in Shakespeare’s school room!

I always wonder if I make an impression on my students the way Ms Walsh did for me. Last year, a graduating student stopped me in the hallway. “Ms. A! I had you for 10th grade, do you remember?” I did, but forgot his name. I was suffering badly from ‘baby brain.’ I smiled and nodded. “I saved up my money and decided to visit Greece with my grandmother before basic training this summer. I remember how you always taught us about the importance of traveling. It made me passionate about seeing more of the world”

Life had indeed come full circle (or full globe.) ← Bad English teacher joke.  

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