Monday, March 24, 2008

England Travelblogue: Let's Get Literary

England has produced a variety of famous writers, ranging from the likes of Samuel Richardson to Douglas Adams, over the centuries. With its strong literary history, bookish types like myself can really have a field day finding out more about their favorite writers' roots. There are many famous landmarks and museums that people can visit in order to do this.

Since I had a lot of things I wanted to do while I was in England, I realized that I wouldn't be able to visit every literary point of interest. So I decided to focus on two of the country's most renowned writers: Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

My first stop was the Charles Dickens Museum, located on 48 Doughty Street in London. Dickens actually lived in the house, and while it was only for a brief period of approximately two years, he did happen to write The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby while residing there. Also, while Dickens lived in numerous houses during his lifetime, this is the only London residence that has survived to this day.

Now because the house is a museum, you get to see a lot of items from many periods of Dickens' career and personal life. Among the items on display are his wife's turquoise and gold engagement ring, a partially-preserved manuscript of The Pickwick Papers, and a court suit worn to royal functions. Each room provides the visitor with the opportunity for a history lesson — there was quite a bit of information regarding his eventual separation from his wife and the questionable relationship he then had with a much younger actress. And there was also a room with family trees, portraits, and placards that outlined what each of his children ended up doing with their lives. At some moments, it felt as though the house was like a history lesson and a classy version of Page Six gossip, all rolled into one.

Ultimately, while the house is not terribly large, it manages to serve as an excellent museum that does Dickens plenty of justice. Walking through the rooms and hallways of the house was amazing, especially when I actually stopped and realized that Dickens had done the same two centuries before me. Since it doesn't take terribly long to tour this little house-turned-museum, I think it's a good idea for bookworms and history buffs to stop by and check it out.

But while the Dickens house is a fun and nifty piece of the past, it probably would be a crime not to visit one of London's biggest attractions: the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Though this is not a structure that was actually around during the famous playwright's time, it's still worth visiting. And because I spent a year in college studying Shakespeare's Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, I felt it would be near blasphemy if I did not stop here.

There are a variety of tours offered at the Globe Theatre, but because of time constraints, I only ended up taking the Rose Theatre Tour. Now there is no actual reconstruction of the Rose Theatre, but the architectural site — where its foundations and some remnants were discovered — is something that you can see on the tour. This is the less famous theatre from Shakespeare's time, but nonetheless, it does have its own important history. My tour guide integrated various facts about Shakespeare and this theatre while taking us around the area, and I thought it was all good fun.

After taking us through the Rose Theatre tour, he also showed us the area where the Globe Theatre once stood. Because the area is now covered by another building that is a couple of centuries old, they can't really reconstruct any aspects of the theatre in its original location. But he then took us quickly through the current model of the Globe Theatre, pictured here, which is supposed to be a fairly faithful duplicate of the original. I have to admit that even though it wasn't Shakespeare's stage itself, it was fascinating to see how theatres of the past were once constructed. I really want to go back one day and watch a play here when I get a chance. But I'm not sure if I'll be motivated enough to endure watching a play as a groundling. We'll just have to see!

However, while the Globe Theatre and the accompanying museum-of-sorts (with artifacts and information pertaining to Shakespeare's era) are a lot of fun to check out, those seeking the "authentic" Shakespearean experience absolutely have to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon. This quaint river town is a charming mix of old and new. While it is home to the house that Shakespeare was born in and even has a Museum of Witchcraft and Wizardology, the town also has plenty of modern institutions including an H&M and Barclays.

I went on a day trip with a tour group when I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, so because of that, I didn't get a chance to see every single attraction in and around the town. This is an unfortunate fact, especially since there actually is a lot more to the town than its connection to Shakespeare, but this only gives me another reason to return there. That being said, I did take advantage of the fact that I was actually in Shakespeare's hometown, and naturally made a visit to the house known as Shakespeare's Birthplace.

The house is a thrilling place to visit because it still has an authentic 16th-century vibe. The rooms inside the house have been refurbished so that visitors can get a chance to see what life during Shakespeare's time was like. One of the rooms is a recreation of a glove-making workshop, meant to represent a workshop similar to the one that Shakespeare's own father must have worked in.

Rooms are filled with Elizabethan furniture and you can also visit the room in which it is likely that Shakespeare was actually born. It was really amazing for me to be inside this house, perhaps even more amazing than it was to be inside the Dickens house. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the 19th century does feel a lot more recent compared to the Renaissance, which feels like a far more ancient era in comparison. In addition to the house, I was also able to visit the visitors' center, which contained a lot of nifty items including the First Folio of his completed works, which dates back to the late 1600s.

All of this was really fascinating and I wish I'd had the chance to visit the other houses — such as Anne Hathaway's cottage — connected to Shakespeare. I also wish I'd had an opportunity to visit other authors' homes. But ultimately, it was amazing that I'd had a chance to visit all the sites that I did get to see. Someday, I hope to return to England and see even more of the many literary locations that are open to visitors.

1 comment:

ToastyKen said...

Also, Stratford-upon-Avon has really pretty willow trees. :)