In the Footsteps of Literary Giants


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June 23rd 2015
Published: October 22nd 2017
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It was a literary day! Our first stop was Anne Hathaway's family cottage outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, and although we were there for the history of her family and her later marriage to William Shakespeare, it may have been the surrounding gardens that stole the show. Bright pink foxglove and towers of purple delphinium waved in the breeze, shrubs of lavender perfumed the air, and bumblebees buzzed about the pastoral scene, oblivious to their human visitors.

Inside the cottage, we enjoyed a short narrative introduction from one of the tour guide staff members--an elegant British woman in her 70s whose pleated slacks and pearls were as polished as her speech. She pointed out the alleged "courting bench" where William and Anne supposedly sat while he came to call, but then shared how the previous owners of the home shaved off slivers of the bench to sell to the highest bidders for profit. Indeed, the seat of the bench was a chewed up mess. Apparently, who wouldn't want a piece of the board that had once supported William and Anne's bums? However, our guide explained, it turns out the bench isn't old enough to have been owned by the Hathaways during Anne and William's courtship. She also explained how at least 8 family members would have eaten and slept in the tiny living room in which we were standing, how they ate off of wooden plates (pewter if they were having guests), and then we were free to explore the rest of the cottage. It was easy to see how such a pastoral setting would be ripe for falling in love--if you don't factor in the truths about medieval hygiene and the prying eyes of Anne's 5 younger siblings! Most convincing was the actual courting chair upstairs, into which the initials "WAS" are carved (for William and Anne Shakespeare) together with the Shakespeare family crest. They really must have walked here!

Next was our visit to the charming town of Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare's birthplace home. The museum's interpretive signs taught us much about the bard's childhood and his later departure for the London theatre. But most thrilling to me was the display of one of the 233 surviving copies of Shakespeare's First Folio. (Washington DC's Folger Shakespeare Library owns 82 copies, one of which will be on display at our own Boise State University in August of 2016!). The First Folio is the
First FolioFirst FolioFirst Folio

Oxford's Bodleian Library
first collection of 36 Shakespearean plays and was published in 1623 (7 years after his death). Without its publication, most of the plays would have been lost forever... To know that this folio was actually printed in 1623, that no two are identical (due to human error), and that it contains 18 plays that had never before been published--including some of our culture's favorites like The Tempest, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night--quite literally gave me chills! I couldn't help but purchase a life-size replica for my classroom. 😊

We also got to stroll around the Oxford University campus for about an hour, and once we made it through the maze of trinkety gift shops, we found ourselves dwarfed by these 16th and 17th century buildings of higher learning, adorned by their flying buttresses, gargoyles, and stained glass. We couldn't help but feel smarter just through osmosis! For here once walked C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, William Golding, Oscar Wilde, and T. S. Eliot.

The part of our group that stumbled into the free Marks of Genius exhibit at the Bodleian Library was in for a treat! There stood one more of Shakespeare's First Folios! This antiquated volume boasted all the
"Trenchers" "Trenchers" "Trenchers"

Eat your meal on the grooved side (smaller indentation is for a bit of salt) and flip it over for a dessert of meat and cheese
features of an ancient literary treasure: tattered corners, pages the color of tea stained by time, and surprisingly, the original 17th century binding with tiny cracks on the edges like cracks in the mud for want of water. Other displays contained Hamlet quartos, Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein manuscript, William Blake's illustrated volumes of Songs of Innocence (rendered from acid-treated plaques), Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Rubaiyat, and Kafka's journal--basically my entire World Lit. and British Lit. curriculum for me to gawk at! But of course there are not just literary geniuses. Audubon's vibrantly illustrated Birds of America, Hooke's Micrographia (the first publication of the eye of a fly as viewed under a microscope), the Gutenberg Bible, and Ptolemy's 1486 map of the world each secured its own place in time, history, and worldview.

We checked into our hotel later that afternoon and enjoyed some free time in the evening. Several of our group sought out fish and chips at a local pub called Moon Under Water. It was served piping hot and with a choice of mushy or garden peas. Since we cleaned them out of fish (they weren't expecting such a large group on an idle Tuesday night), those of
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See initials "WAS" for William and Anne Shakespeare together with the Shakespeare family crest
our group who didn't get fish and chips enjoyed steak or burgers--excellent pub food for a borough of London and our first night in the city.

It wasn't until the next morning that I learned about the late-night commotion that had occurred outside our hotel. What the students described (to my horror) as a murder scene turned out to be the site of a hit-and-run where a pedestrian was hit in a crosswalk. Thankfully, he wasn't badly hurt! And thankfully there were no errant bullets as I was initially led to believe! Clearly, nightlife in London is more eventful than nightlife in Meridian, Idaho...



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Delphinium

Gardens outside of Anne Hathaway's cottage
Shakespeare's birth room Shakespeare's birth room
Shakespeare's birth room

He likely would have slept in one of the cradles next to his parents' bed


29th June 2015

Humble beginnings! So cool!

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