Stratford-upon-Avon, UK:


It’s a 90-minute drive or so from central London, up the A40 through North London, past the Gillette blade factory and out into the rolling hills that are bisected by the M40. You whizz by signs for service stations, then Oxford, and in no time at all you’re weaving through roundabouts into this town that earns its living now from its most famous son.

A couple can dine handily on two-course pre-theatre specials with change to spare out of £30 (Dh160) in any of the smorgasbord of restaurants on the main and mean streets before curtains up at 7.30pm at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the banks of the River Avon. What would the bard think now of the town where his father made a middle-class living as a glove maker in a house on the main street, while William himself penned his works two day’s travel away, in London — in a time where service station likely meant a place where scullery maids kept wig brooms, and blades were wielded by kings and princes, heroes and villains that leapt from his quilled pages?


The black-and-white thatched buildings are preserved and listed as historically significant and of cultural importance: The Falcon hotel, the Garrick Inn. Others are just culturally important, with Avon Spice doing a brisk trade in authentic “balti” chicken — from Birmingham, not Bengal.


In his works, Shakespeare wrote of gentlemen of Verona, ancient Rome, princes of Denmark — bringing those times, tyrants, and tirades alive, setting a whole world on the stage of the 16th century and creating imagery that still endures 400 years after his death.


At a local school, a gentle collection of the elderly and scholarly peer knowingly at first editions, collector’s tomes, musty books and plastic-protected publications on a rainy Sunday morning. There isn’t a kindle or iPad to be found — this book show is for the lovers of leaves, where pride of pages and a bond with books are timeless — rather like the town itself beyond the school hall.


At Shakespeare’s birthplace, Japanese tourists noisily natter and follow their flag-waving guide past multimedia displays that highlight this life in handsets with English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian that must be returned at the end of the tour. Flash photography is also frowned upon, and please don’t sit or touch the exhibits that authentically reproduce 16th-century life in Stratford in genuine 21st-century tourist authenticity.


Yes, while this town peddles itself as the cradle that nurtured Shakespeare, the hand that penned the works rarely returned once the life in London beckoned, but was shrewd enough in matters of the purse to turn the family home into a hostelry.


On the outskirts of town, you can stroll through Ann Hathaway’s cottage and grounds, sit at points in the neat gardens and press buttons A or B to have selected Shakespearean sonnets recited to you through a discreet speaker tucked away in the foliage.


In the cottage upstairs, his marriage bed – or at least what’s believed to be – is there. So too artefacts from the home, which has been extended down through the centuries. Yes, if you close your eyes it is possible to imagine him here, or at least his words ring through your mind. It’s hard to separate the man from his words.


Yes, the whole world is a stage, and Stratford-upon-Avon — and all its bits — is playing its part.



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