Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Creeping Like A Snail Unwillingly To School

The school Shakespeare attended from the age of about seven to fourteen was housed in the town's half-timbered guildhall, which was built by the nediaeval Guild of the Holy Cross about 150 years before Shakespeare was born.  The building still stands and forms part of the King Edward VI School.  As such it is open only rarely to the public ... 

... which is why, when we spotted a trestle table and several slightly morose schoolboy guides hanging about the entrance, we had to go in.  

The downstairs hall, which in1553 had been taken over by the newly formed town council and used for administrative purposes, would orignally have been painted a dull red.  Some traces of figures on the walls remain. 

The bottom left hand corner of this photo shows wattle that forms part of the wall.

Also in 1553, the upper hall had become the schoolroom of Stratford Grammar School.  Only boys were taught there, of course; about 40 altogether.  They sat on wooden benches arranged facing each other along either side of the room, rather than at the ancient (but not ancient enough) and heavily carved desks that fill it now. 

Our guide told us that papers found in the Muniments Room indicated that the school's most illustrious pupil had sat at the front of the class on the left hand side of the room.  

I have a healthy suspicion of papers found in such places, as the Muniments Room at St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol was where Thomas Chatterton famously 'forged' his Thomas Rowley poems.  

However, if Will had sat there and if he had been able to turn in his seat and look out of the window without his teacher rapping his knuckles with a ruler, his view would have looked something like this. 

The Elizaethan curriculum consisted mainly of the study of Latin, a little Greek, and mathematics.  At the end of each term, the older boys would have put on performances of plays by the classical Greek and Roman playwrights.  Travelling actors visiting the town would also have put on performances here - and so here are the seeds that found such fertile ground in Shakepeare's imagination.

In the adjoining room, the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York illustrate the town's claim to neutrality during the Wars of the Roses. 

'And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.'

As You Like It

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