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The Setting

Well, I made it. After all that. I am here. Living in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Where Shakespeare grew up.

That's pretty cool.

So, there's the Post Office. And then down the street is the house Shakespeare was born in. That's Henley Street. The tourist street, always bustling.

I can't really think about how almost every building in the downtown area was built before 1600, some before 1500. It's insane. But I can't comprehend it. They're just buildings to me, with storefront, large windows next to the sidewalks. There's one building with a thatched roof with a Pub inside. It's called the Thatched Roof Tavern and it is the only building in town allowed to have a thatched (they're a fire hazard. Who knew?). There are churches, as well. Much, much larger with grand windows, stained glass and marble walls. Very echo-y. The colourful pre-protestant paintings have been whitewashed. Before that, when Mary was queen, the paintings were cleaned so their full, colourful beauty could be seen.

The Shakespeare Institute, where I study, has a field behind it, probably a little more than an acre of long, green grass. Trees separate the field from the garden, which has a stone archway and three uneven steps down to the grass near the patio. It was built well before 1600, the first documented owner being the Bartlett family in 1610. No one knows who was there before that. The staircase is grand, as it should be, and you can see it when you open the front door. It spirals three times, two landings each. The teacher's offices are on the second and third(attic) floor. But, if you go past the stairs and through a short passage and turn left, you come into what is called the Conservatory. It is bright, and warm as the glass creates a sort of terrarium. From the conservatory, you can see the archway I mentioned, but not the field. The field is past a few gardens, separated by trees and bushes. Off the Conservatory are two classrooms. Well, one is a classroom. A classroom I have no classes in but looked inside today. It is beautiful and probably one of the only rooms in which its character has been left untouched. There's a little niche next to the fireplace with a little red curtain above it. The curtain is hiding a small stained-glass window that has been blocked for some reason and is dark. There's another, larger window like this in an alcove on the other side of the fireplace. And of course, the room is encased in dark wood wainscoting. The door is made of glass, of little diamond shaped, pieces of glass held together by metal. The other room off the conservatory is called the Lecture Hall. And it is, indeed, a hall. Its vaulted ceilings are the height of the three stories together, with dark beams across. There's a fireplace and two Shakespeare busts. One large, by the front window, and the other small and a little funny looking, on the mantle. Across from the front window are a pair of doors. I didn't know how to describe them, so I found a picture. The building used to belong to a woman named Marie Corelli, and this is the way the hall looked when she lived there. Now, the hall is empty with stacking chairs to put out for the impending Thursday Lectures. The walls in the hall are adorned with drawings and paintings of past RSC productions, images of the characters in this scene or that.

Marie Corelli's Hall
This is the backside of "Mason Croft"

And then there's the river. I think I like this area best, if it were not for all the people. There's a park with paths and grass and under one smaller tree there a metal bench surrounding its trunk. Just past that, the behemoth that is Royal Shakespeare Company rises. This wall, probably 6 stories tall, is made of grey concrete or something and over to the right of this wall is a wall of glass that stretches just as high. Right on the inside of that glass is a huge neon sign, usually bright red, announcing what's playing and that that building is, indeed, the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's very easy to miss. But if you turn around, you'll see the river to your right and in front of you are the long, silly looking river tour boats with the food advertisements. "Best Barge Food" is my favourite. Walking towards the river now there's a little bridge over the lock that gently lets the tour boats into the river. This bridge is metal and the floor of it is that weird textured metal that feels hollow. On the other side of the bridge is a three-story wooden building behind which is Cox's Yard, a fancy restaurant. You can get to it if you go down the stairs and go through a passage under the three-story building. More importantly, through that passage is the entrance to The Attic Theatre (see the Bronte post), where I had the pleasure of seeing Wuthering Heights and a play called Bronte all in one day. Well, back through the arch and up the stairs. Turn right and continue down that footpath. To the left you see the river and the tour boats and coming up on your right is the stature. The centre is a huge pedestal with engravings and epitaphs and acknowledgements and dedications. Then look up and see sitting atop that mound of stone is the man himself, seated in a chair, thinking, quill and paper in hand. On each of the four sides of him, there is a life-size statue of four of his most famous characters. I was able to identify three before we got close. Falstaff, Henry V and Hamlet with Yorrick's skull. The fourth one and the only woman I needed to go and look at to figure it out. It is Lady Macbeth, wringing her hands (I wonder if that's where the term came from? She's trying to clean her hands of blood and we wring clothes when we get them wet...hmmm).

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