it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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Surviving Stratford, 52 book challenge

Today was Stratford-Upon-Avon. I think I actually spent longer on the train than in the town (Canterbury is going to be even worse), but it was good to get my feet on the ground and walk around. The hit list was the Henley street house, the Chapel street house, Holy Trinity church, Susannah and John Hall's house, and the Hathaway house. (I refuse to call them by the cutesy names assigned them by the Shakespeare Birthplace trust. Flat refuse. Especially since "Anne Hathaway's Cottage" was owned by her father and then her brother, never Anne--a misnomer that appears to have tripped up both Sarah Hoyt and Connie Willis. Okay, technically the misnomer dates from the 18th century. In the immortal words of Tommy Lee Jones, I DON'T CARE. 


Okay, anyway. heathwitch drove out from Manchester to spend the day, and we proceeded to walk a lot. First, the Henley street house, which is, indeed, worth visiting. Especially on a really cold day in the off season when the tourists are thin on the ground. The stone floors are lovely (though much more polished than they would have been in 1564, to pick a year at "random"), and one can get a very good idea of what the house was like to live in, work in, and rub elbows with ten other adults and children in. Jeepers. The staff here was a lot of fun; "John Shakespeare" declaimed a few verses from a Condensed Hamlet to us that had us howling.

I even got the description of the parlor and the hall almost right, though there are some changes I'll need to make. The hall, in particular, had this wonderful air of the sort of place that Mary and her daughter and daughter-in-law might come bustling into, arms full of herbs and vegetables, ready to put together a salat and do a bit of roasting. John Shakespeare's workshop isn't quite as successful--all that wool and cheveril is a little too tidily displayed--but the guide in that area makes up for it.

Next stop, the Nash house on Chapel street, which was owned by Will's grand-daughter and her husband, and which really has no relevance for me, except that it was next door and coterminous in terrace to the New Place, and gives at least an idea what it might have looked like (All that remains of the house that Will actually bought for Anne and the children is the arched brick foundation, which has been excavated. I wandered down and stood in a vault. It was a nice vault. Lots of spiders.) Anyway, the Nash place is a spacious, airy house of the period. Very pleasant. One can assume that Will's house was the same, and being married to the richest man in Stratford was good for something after all. (In SM, I've got Annie renting a house before the purchase of the New Place, because I needed to get her and the kids out of the Henley Street abode for dramatic purposes. I made that bit up.) Anyway, the Nash house was interesting, but heathwitch had to haul me outside to prevent violence when the interpreter started saying mean things about Annie.

Bah. Twit. You don't buy the second-biggest house in town for a wife you can't stand, jerkface.

On to Holy Trinity! (walking, walking. actually, it's all quite close together.)

What a nice church. It warmed the cockles of my heart that it's still a functioning parish church (heathwitch laughed at me for calling it a "working" church, but she's a pagan, what does she know? Oh, wait, I'm a pagan, too. Well, an ex-pagan. Anyway.) and it's just lovely inside, with coffered ceilings and weird little chapels (I'm a sucker for those weird little chapels, as American churches mostly don't have them). The monument does indeed look like somebody has inserted a hollow needle under his skin and pumped him full of air, prior to flensing. Not his best side. Just saying.)

There were graves. Which, depending on which crackpot you listen to, may or may not have bodies in them. Or the collected works of Edward de Vere. Also, a King James Bible first edition, which we spent a bit of time leaving nose-prints on the glass over.

Next stop, the Hall house. Which Susannah and John built, lived in, and then left behind without a backward glance after Will died, to go live at the New Place with Anne. (Susannah took very good care of her mom, apparently, and Will took very good care of Susannah. Still more reasons why the thing about the second-best bed doesn't really mean much, unless you're willing to accept that it was a personal gift. (A lot of hay gets made over the fact that John Marlowe made MUCH more elaborate provision for Kathryn than Will did for Anne. John Marlowe's sons were dead, however [okay, so was Will's], and his daughters were, uh... well, I wouldn't trust them to take care of my aging wife, either. Susannah was reliable, well-married, and seems to have doted on her mother. Judith... really needed to beat her husband to death with a shovel. The same one Ann Jonson should have used on Ben. Oh, why am I on about this? Moving on now.)

Okay. Last stop, the Hathaway house. Which was packed with tour groups (I mean, PACKED) and haunted by the most annoying tour guide in the history of tour guides. Bad enough that *I* wanted to borrow Judith's shovel. OMG. As if the disinformation wasn't enough (he repeated the stupid thing about Elizabethan middle-class girls getting married at twelve or fourteen and Anne being an old maid at 26--well, not hardly. No. Marriages among the nobility were sometimes carried out that young, sometimes for boys as well. More typical for non noblewomen was 25-26, because they usually spent several years in service. Average age of marriage for tradesmen was 28, not 21 (Ben Jonson married young, at 21, and left his apprenticeship to do it), as this fellow would have had it. Furthermore, he also wasn't smart enough to figure out that an average life expectancy of 34 does not actually mean that most people die at 34 when your child mortality rate is between 33-55%. Argh. ARGH! And let's talk about the 19th century Anne-trapped-Will-into-an-unhappy-marriage thing. Her family was not poor either--her father and later her brother could certainly afford to dower her--and Will's dad at that point was starting to have some fairly serious financial troubles. Also, by getting married at 18 he pretty much put paid to his chances at apprenticeship, though he was a bit old for that already. I dunno, to me, it smacks of a plot.)

...anyway, if all that wasn't annoying enough, he felt the need to spend the entire visit explaining Elizabethan life in terms of the sort of spurious folk etymologies that get passed around the internet on chain letters.


Funky little house, though. Seriously adorable in a hobbit-hole sort of way. Probably even funkier when Anne lived there, and the big hearths and chimneys weren't yet built.

(I was thinking about stopping at King Edwards school, but time was growing short and I wasn't sure it was open to the public and heathwitch wasn't feeling well (I, um, have this tendency to run people off their feet. Sorry, Heather.) so I gave it a pass.)

However, comma, the walk from Stratford to Shottery was just about perfect. What would have been fields and hedgerows and herds of sheep then are housing estates and a grammar school now, but you cross the little stream Will would have jumped along the way and the larger one he would have had to splash through (There may have been a bridge; I'm not sure) and I saw magpies fly over my head coming and going, which I choose to look upon as a fortuitous sign, rather than the Ghost of Will casting a jaundiced eye upon me. Since there was no magpie benediction of the, er, physical sort, I figure I have a shot at not being wrong about that.

And I had another one of those kinesthetic flashes, because I could totally picture this horny lovestruck eighteen-year-old sneaking out of his father's workshop to tryst with his girlfriend in the orchards.

One thing I noticed about Warwickshire was the light. It's that sweet high-latitude light, the slanted kind that goes from gold to red incrementally, over the course of an afternoon. The sun has a long way to go, morning and evening, and is in no hurry.

Reminds me of Vermont, though the countryside looks nothing like it.

Warwickshire. Lots of sheep. Will knew all about sheep, didn't he? *g*

And now I must go read lj and try to work a little on the Tindalosi girls before bed. Tomorrow, the Globe, the George Inn, and the Rose.

*Why yes, I am an Anne Shakespeare apologist. Grrr.

Train reading on the way out and the way back was non-Shakespearean revenge tragedies. Books #33 and #34:

#33, Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy

I really like this play. It's tightly plotted, cleanly written, and cruises along like a 1950's murder mystery--and I love the device of the Ghost and Revenge watching from the balcony, like Statler and Waldorf. (I need a Statler and Waldorf icon for reviews and things, don't I?) And the Ghost going "Oh, man, this was not what I intended."

Also, Kyd's narrative is so clean. He really is the 1580's answer to Dashiell Hammett, only without the really boring expositional chapter at the end. After reading mostly Marlowe and Shakespeare and Jonson for the past couple of years, I could not believe how fast I zipped through this play.

#34, Anonymous, The Revenger's Tragedy

it. Mostly for the incredible level of misogyny. I mean, okay, I read a lot of Renaissance English Lit, and I am ued to reading past the women being treated as second class citizens.

This play feels the need to remind you in just about every scene that girls are icky. And also dumb, fickle, perfidous, and sleeping with your bastard son.

This sort of made me feel guilty when I found myself laughing at some of the very clever jokes and plot twists. (It's a black farce, not actually a revenge tragedy. Well, in the sense of "REWENGE!" maybe.)

(bonus question: the revenge tragedy: is it still a current form in English drama, as typified by most Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood movies. Discuss. Extra credit if given for context on Kill Bill and V for Vendetta.)

Tags: 52 book challenge, rengeekery, uk 2006

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