Monday, 22 July 2013

In The Churchway Paths

I hadn't been to Stratford since I went on a primary school trip -or was it Brownies? - anyhow, it was in the 60s.  And to my astonishment, it hadn't changed a bit.  At any moment, I thought, I would see flower beds planted with scarlet geraniums - and lo, there they were.

We decided to while away the time till the performance by wandering down to Shakespeare's church, Holy Trinity.  This is the font in which he was christened three days after his birth on 26th April 1564, much damaged (having served between 1747 and 1861 as a water cistern!) but still a thing of beauty.  

It's not known where he and Anne Hathaway were married, but we do know that they married in haste to avoid scandal, as Anne was pregnant at the time.  Baby Susannah, their first child, arrived six months later.  

 And here he lies in the chancel, his tomb joined by those of other family members in the vault he had built.

The monument was installed by Shakespeare's friends after his death but its Jacobean sepulchral style and the fact that it has been restored and repainted over the centuries means that it's impossible to know whether what J Dover Wilson described as 'a self-satisfied pork butcher' is a genuine likeness or not.  

What we are exposed to in childhood has a potent affect on our imagination.  I pictured Shakespeare gazing around the church during a boring sermon and set about reconstructing in my head what it might have looked like .  The 14th century rood screen would have been there then, having already survived the depredations of the Reformation.

Some mediaeval stained glass has survived, as has the stone altar which was found hidden beneath the floor in Victorian times, so although it predates Shakespeare, he almost certainly would not have seen it in situ.  

 This 15th century misericord could almost be inspiration for The Tempest ... 

 ... and this for Benedick and Beatrice?  

A late 15th century angel in the nave. 

A number of the tombs predated Shakespeare's death.

Some traces of mediaeval wall painting - all that remain of the profusion of paintings that would once have covered every surface.  By Shakespeare's time they would have been whitewashed over.  

Richard Hill died in 1593.  His memorial is covered in graffiti with serifs (my favourite sort), including a William with an upsidedown initial W.  Pretty safe to say that it wasn't our William wielding a sharp implement one particularly dull Sunday. 

Puck: 'Now it is the time of night
That the graves, all gaping wide, 
Every one lets forth his sprite
In the churchway paths to glide'

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