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Shakespeare's Birthplace

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is currently closed as part of a long-discussed rebuilding programme. The £100m plan is to re-design the interior while preserving the key heritage elements of the 1932 building, including its art deco facade. The main idea is to thrust the stage further out into the audience, with theatregoers seated around.

The furthest from the stage that any of the 1000 new seats will be is 15 meters. When it is completed in 2010 it will be the largest thrust stage with a tiered auditorium in the world. The new theatre will also have a rooftop restaurant, a riverside walkway, tower with viewing platform and a public square.

During the redevelopment,  the RSC will continue performing in the 1000-seat Courtyard Theatre. The layout of the stage and seating of this temporary theatre will be a prototype for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre new auditorium. 

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The Shakespeare Houses may be difficult for visitors with mobility problems, as they all have tricky stairs. But gardens and ground floor rooms are all accessible. There's free disabled parking at Anne Hathaway's Cottage and at Mary Arden's House. In town, everything is reasonably flat.

Seniors can buy lower-cost inclusive tickets for all five or for the three in-town Shakespeare Houses.

What else to see? 
The swans by Clopton Bridge on the River Avon.
The Stratford Canal basin, with colourful narrowboats.
King Edward VI Grammar School in Church Street, where William went to school. 

No time left for shopping and all the other sightseeing possibilities? Stay overnight at one of the many hotels and guest-houses which also cater for a constant stream of foreign visitors. Going to Stratford outside the summer peak makes it easier to get a reservation.

Theatre information and reservations: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6BB. Tel: 0870 609 1110. Online:

Prices for Shakespearience are: 7.95 adults; 6.95 seniors, students and children; 23.95 for a family of four. Tel: 01789 290111. 

Stratford-upon-Avon Tourist Information Centre, Bridgefoot, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6GW. Tel:  0870 160 7930. Email: info@shakespeare
    Website: www.shakespeare-

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During 2010 eight Shakespear plays will be performed including Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It and Julius Caesar

Meanwhile, the Shakespeare industry continues to flourish as before, and there's no reason for the bard to turn in his grave at Holy Trinity Church alongside the River Avon.

Winter or summer, the box-office tills are ringing. A typical commercial attraction is called Shakespearience. Located at the Waterside Theatre, it presents the life and legacy of William Shakespeare in one hour, with snippets from the best-known plays. It gives visitors the chance to learn all about Shakespeare within a fun environment. 

The easiest way of seeing all five of the buildings directly linked to Shakespeare is to take the  Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour. On-board guides describe the town and countryside where William grew up, and which inspired some of his plays. 

If you stay aboard right round, the circuit lasts an hour. But stopping off for a visit, and then picking up a later bus, can stretch the sightseeing until last entry at any of the Shakespeare houses at 4 p.m. in winter, or 5 p.m. in summer.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage The most familiar site is Anne Hathaway's Cottage, which everybody knows from chocolate boxes, postcards, tea cosies and similar art forms. This cottage is a substantial 12-roomed farmhouse which stayed in the Hathaway family until 1892, when it was bought by The Birthday Trust. 

The Trust restored the property with Elizabethan furnishings, even including a wooden bedstead claimed as the bed in which Anne Hathaway was born. Year-round, the thatched roof always looks splendid in this country setting. 

In Shakespeare's time bad fires in Stratford destroyed whole streets, mainly because flames spread so fast from roof to roof. The use of thatch was banned, and only one building in town - called the Old Flat Tavern - resisted that law and still keeps its thatch.

However, there are plenty more thatched dwellings to be seen during the out-of-town bus ride. It all gives added charm to this area of Shakespeare country.

Mary Arden's HouseThe reputed house of Mary Arden - home of Shakespeare's mother - is a more spacious affair. It has the appealing half- timbered look of a wealthy Tudor farming family. Since Mary Arden's day, the farmhouse has always remained in the hands of working farmers, who maintained the original outbuildings. 

Since 1930 the house has been completely re-fitted in Tudor style. The farm buildings have become a living Shakespeare Countryside Museum to illustrate the rural life of the past 400 years. It includes Heart of England Falconry - one of Shakespeare's favourite sports.

More recently it has been proved that Mary Arden's House had been wrongly identified. It was really the smaller red-brick house next door! Fortunately it had been bought some years ago by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and was used as a Victorian home exhibit. So now you get two houses for the entrance price of one.

Back in town, tourism centres on the hallowed Birthplace in the pedestrianised Henley Street, with a Jester monument at one end. 

Access to the Birthplace is through a modern Visitors' Centre, with an exhibition which jogs your memory about William's career. A 'no-mobiles' sign is backed by a Shakespearean quote: "Silence that dreadful bell" - Othello, Act II, Scene 3.  It's nice to think that the playwright had an appropriate comment for the 21st century. In the Birthplace itself, every room is furnished in authentic style, and most of the oak beams and fireplaces are original. 

The remaining must-see properties are Hall's Croft, Nash's House & New Place. 

Hall's Croft is a splendid half-timbered gabled house owned by a wealthy doctor, John Hall, who married Shakespeare's daughter Susanna. It's fitted with period furniture, while upstairs the doctor's medical instruments and prescription books are displayed. 

Nash's House was owned by the husband of Shakespeare's grand-daughter, and is now home to the local history museum. Shakespeare himself - enriched by his theatrical career in London - bought a palatial brick property next door, called New Place, which became his retirement home.
The Jester monument near The Birthplace
Regretably an eccentric parson acquired the property in the 18th century. He couldn't stand Shakespeare, didn't like his plays, and objected to people looking through his windows to see where Shakespeare had once lived. 

So he razed New Place to the ground. The site today is an Elizabethan garden, reached from Nash's House. Behind, there is a peaceful Shakespeare Memorial Garden - open, free - in the former orchard and kitchen garden.

Following the Shakespeare Heritage Trail certainly takes a fully-packed day,  especially if you finish with an evening at the playhouse.


Consider another Midlands destination

WARWICK - Year-round destination for a day out

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Stratford-upon-Avon: More Than a Guide (Jarrold City-break Guides) - a handy-sized guidebook to the main highlights.

Shakespeare Country, the Vale Of Evesham and the Cotswolds - an Ordnance Survey Pathfinder Guide, designed for walkers who want to explore the region in greater depth. 

Shakespeare Country and Cotswolds - A Landmark Visitors Guide in the latest up-dated edition, dividing the region into itineraries for motorists or cyclists.

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