With 2014 heralding the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, celebrate the Bard at some of his old haunts and best play places.
It all started on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1564. In a half-timbered wattle-and-daub house on a busy thoroughfare in this Warwickshire town, William Shakespeare was brought into the world. The 16th-century pad could hardly have foreseen its future stardom. Now, it’s one of England’s most famous dwellings, converted into a museum that recreates Will’s world, complete with period furnishings and a Tudor herb garden. But really, the whole town is Shakespeare-upon-Avon: pay your respects at Anne Hathaway’s comely cottage (former home of his wife), Mary Arden’s House (home of his mum) and the RSC Theatre, home of his living literary legacy.
The Royal Shakespeare Company is based at the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres in Stratford; for program see www.rsc.org.uk.
‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?’ ’Tis likely the flash of a thousand cameras! The balcony of Verona’s Casa de Giulietta is not a secret spot. And though Shakespeare’s teen-love tragedy was set in the city, it’s rather doubtful that this humble 13th-century courtyard had anything to do with anyone who may have inspired Romeo and Juliet. But why let the truth get in the way of a good tourist attraction? Besides, with its enormous Roman amphitheatre, red-brick Castelvecchio, cobbled old streets and twisting River Adige, the city exudes plenty of real romance.
Entrance to the courtyard of Juliet’s House is free; there is a fee to enter the house and stand on the balcony.
The first Kronberg Castle dates back to the 1420s, when it was erected on the eastern tip of Zealand to guard the narrow Øresund Strait. Then, thanks to Frederik II ’s fancy renovations in the late 16th century, it became one of Europe’s key Renaissance fortifications. This reputation obviously travelled fast, for when penning Hamlet around 1600, Shakespeare placed his troubled prince right here. Now forever known as Elsinore, the castle has embraced its literary associations. Frequent productions of Hamlet are performed within Kronberg’s walls, which over the years have seen Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi and Jude Law take on the role of the great Dane.
Trains runs from Copenhagen Central to Elsinore (45 minutes). Kronberg is a 15-minute walk from the station.
Macbeth has a bad rep – Shakespeare did not write the 11th-century Scot well, making him out to be a power-hungry murderer with an unhinged missus. But was he really so bad? The Macbeth Trail driving route, launched in 2013, might suggest not, linking locations from Shakespeare’s play to the actual man. Glamis Castle (Wills called Macbeth the ‘Thane of Glamis’), Lumphanan (the Aberdeenshire village where Macbeth was killed in battle in 1057) and Cairn O’Mount (where Macbeth took his supporters en route to Lumphanan) are all on the trail – with some suitably dramatic Scottish scenery in between.
Did you read the one about the Bard and the bullet train? No one did – until 1997, when some Surrey-based architects built a slice of Elizabethan England not far from Tokyo. The flashing neon of Japan’s capital is still visible from Maruyama’s incongruous Shakespeare Country Park. An animatronic Will welcomes bardolators to this cluster of half-timbered cottages arranged around a village green, complete with stocks and maypole. Imported British oak supports the replica birthplace, Mary Arden’s house and a windmill, all constructed using traditional methods – though earthquake-proofed to suit the new location, 16,000km and five centuries away.
Shakespeare Country Park is around 80km northeast of Tokyo. The on-site theatre puts on Shakespeare’s plays (in Japanese).
Antony & Cleopatra is all over the place: location-wise, the play flits across the Roman Empire. But it’s the scenes set in Alexandria that are the most exotic – and most tragic. In today’s Mediterranean-side city, mementoes of Cleo – Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC – are scant. Her royal palace was destroyed by earthquakes, and lies sunken in the ancient harbour (though an underwater museum has been mooted); the Pharos lighthouse, built by one of Cleopatra’s ancestors, is likewise submerged. For now, the best bet is to promenade the Corniche, and ponder the glories that wait beneath the waves.
The Alexandria National Museum, located in an Italianate mansion on Tariq Al-Horreya St, documents the history of the city.
Mount Párnitha, Greece
Mount Párnitha National Park has nothing to do with Shakespeare. But since the main setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a rather non-specific ‘wood outside Athens’, it’s as good a bet as any. It’s certainly the most enchanting. While the capital’s suburbs have gobbled up much surrounding countryside, this swathe of caves, gorges, peaks, trails and fir forest – just 30km to the northwest – is an accessible and surprising wilderness. Inhaling its fragrant pine, walking amid its wildflowers and gazing up to 1413m Karavola (the park’s highest summit), it’s easy to imagine Titania and Oberon dancing amid the trees.
Bus 714 runs from central Athens to Thrakomakedones, where a cable car runs up into Mount Párnitha National Park.
Some historians believe Francis Drake stopped by the spot we call Vancouver in 1579; most think the Spanish got there first, but not until 1791. Either way, Shakespeare would have known little of this distant western land, and certainly set no works there. Yet, each year, Vancouver celebrates Will like he’s their own. Every summer since 1990 the Bard on the Beach festival has provided affordable access to Shakespeare: two stages are erected in waterfront Vanier Park, and a program of plays, talks and even a tasty bard-b-q is put on, against a breathtaking backdrop of mountains, sea and sky.
The Bard on the Beach festival runs from June to September in Vanier Park, Kitsilano; tickets and information are available from www.bardonthebeach.org.
Shakespeare set Much Ado About Nothing in Messina, northeast Sicily. A creative decision, or a hint at much more ado? In 2002 Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara put forth a theory: Shakespeare actually hailed from Messina. Iuvara alleged that young Sicilian noble Michelangelo ‘Crollalanza’ (‘Shakespeare’ in Italian) emigrated to England and went on to wed Anne Hathaway – an excellent translator. Maybe. Maybe not. But when it’s drizzling in Stratford-upon-Avon, Messina’s sunshine, pizzas and piazzas might seem a more attractive bard-honouring option.
Ferries connect Messina to Villa San Giovanni on Italy’s mainland (20 minutes).
The Globe, one of the first purpose-built playhouses in London, was constructed on the Southbank in 1599 – and Shakespeare was a shareholder. It burned down in 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII (stage cannons and thatch roofs don’t mix). Sketches of the theatre are, well, sketchy. Best guesses reckon it was a 20-sided roofless polygon built of oak laths and lime plaster. In 1997, these guesses took shape and a new Globe opened, 230m from the site of the original.
The Globe’s theatre season runs April to October; the exhibition and site tour is open year-round (www.shakespearesglobe.com).