We were delighted to welcome Kate and her Storytree to Shakespeare's family homes last week, where she visited each of the houses in turn to hold a series of interactive story-telling sessions. Read about her visit and the story that she and our visitors wrote together throughout the week (or download the story in full).
Day One - Shakespeare's Birthplace
Stories bring people together and through our common values, allow us to connect with the story and one another. In the setting of Shakespeare's Birthplace, I met many people, all eager to share their stories. People talked about the town and country in which they were born and what it was that made that town unique and different. It felt important for people to share where they live and spend their lives. Our birthplace, where we place our roots and where we spend our childhood impacts on how we express who we are and this is common in all of us.
Sharing stories with children will always bring surprises. The freedom they use to weave seemingly implausible storylines and surprising twists within the context of their lives creates a story that is meaningful to them. In one of today’s stories, Shakespeare met Cinderella at the end of the rainbow and they went off to play Pokemon go! The freedom from having ‘plausible’ boundaries creates a platform in which children have the power to imagine something that may seem unreal but, importantly, will feel real to them. Nurturing the power of storytelling within the child gives them a voice to express how they feel about the world in which they live. It is important for us to listen to them.
This week we are writing a story as we follow Shakespeare around the houses and imagine how his life had once been. We will be adding to our story each day and we hope you enjoy our journey. We have, as storytellers do, told our story, adding our own twist!
There once lived a couple called John and Mary. They lived in a beautiful house in a town in Warwickshire. The couple were anxious to have a baby and had already experienced great sadness at losing two baby girls. The time came when John and Mary gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and they called him William. Shortly after, a great threat grew over the town and so Mary took her son away to a nearby village. But William was a strong boy and he grew stronger each year and when April arrived, he would celebrate his birthday.
William spent his days helping his father make gloves. But he was not interested.
‘William, come and help me with this glove.’ His father would ask. But William was too busy staring out of the window and listening to the passers by.
‘William, fetch me that leather so that I can cut it and sew it.’ But again, William would be found staring out at the world outside his window. William’s father decided that it was now time for him to attend school. William loved school and spent many happy days there.
One day, a theatre group came to visit the town. Everyone was excited, for the theatre group brought with them stories from the London. John knew that the town would be busy and so told William:
‘William, today you must help me in the shop, for we are poor and in need of money.’
William defied his father and went to watch the theatre group. He was amazed. He had never before seen such beautiful props and costumes. He returned to his family home and announced:
‘Father, I wish to become a writer.’
And that is what he did.
Day Two – Hall’s Croft
Today, we’ve been sharing stories in Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter. I wonder how the relationship was between them and how different things would have been in their times. We are all a son or daughter and so thinking of Shakespeare as a father perhaps gives us a different insight about the man we predominantly know as a writer.
I met many families today; a family from Jersey with four children, a local actor and her fifteen month old son, a family from Seattle and two girls from Kent, who were visiting with their mum and dad. Each family shared little stories about their lives and about each other. Some of them were secret stories, special stories about the family fold. Stories which gave one person power over the other and vice versa. Stories to embarrass a sibling or praise a child. We know that Shakespeare wrote many plays and today was a reminder of all the family tensions that would’ve been present in Shakespeare’s family too.
And so, we continue our story of William . . .
William kept his passion for writing , but continued working for his father until such time that he was old enough to marry. He met a woman called Anne and they married and gave birth to a daughter, Susanna. She was a strong woman, will a strong mind. She fell in love with a doctor called John Hall. He was very rich and provided Susanna with whatever she wanted. They would go to church and spend happy days in their garden tending to the herbs and plants.
William would go to visit his daughter and son-in-law. He was intrigued by all the plants and herbs, gemstones and rocks.
‘I wonder’ thought William ‘How is it that such simple things can do such wondrous things? It is, as if, my young son-in-law could do magic!’
At this, William ran home. For he was full of thoughts about the doctor and his seemingly magical powers.
Day three – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Shottery is a quiet and peaceful place. The gardens and woodland are beautiful and whilst I imagine it to have been different in Anne Hathaway’s time, there is peace to be found in the abundance of space, feeling close to the natural world. I am eager to share stories and love to listen as people regale their stories. But often there are stories that we do not wish to tell. They stay within us, silent and unknown to the outside world, but they are stories nevertheless.
I remember once talking to a woman from Israel. She spent her childhood in Jerusalem and had always lived in conflict and fear. She told me that there are some stories that she will never tell. It was important that she kept some stories just for herself, not to be shared with anyone. These were the stories that made her strong, personal stories which she could draw upon and retain, not to be changed by anyone but herself. We are in control over the words we use and choose to share and it is powerful.
We are lucky that Shakespeare chose to share his stories with us. I wonder about the stories he chose not to tell!
And so, on to the next part of our story . . .
Now, we have not yet spoken much of Anne, the wife of William. She was the daughter of a farmer who lived in a cottage along the banks of Shottery brook. Anne and William were very much in love and wished to marry immediately. Anne was older than William and so he had to ask his father’s permission to marry her.
‘My son, I know that you are in love with this woman. But why the rush? Have you no patience?’
At this William decided to tell his father the truth.
‘Father, we must marry quickly as Anne is with child and due to give birth very soon.’
‘So be it’ replied his father ‘ then I must get to work. For all the guests must be gifted with a pair of the finest gloves.’
They were married and their wedding day was celebrated with friends and family. Anne wore her best clothes and her hair was crowned with a garland of herbs.
Anne was sad to leave the beautiful cottage that she knew so well. She would miss the surrounding meadows and all the wild flowers that grew there. But her life was to change for she was now married to Mr William Shakespeare.
Day Four – Mary Arden’s Farm
Throughout the week, I have been travelling around Stratford, visiting the houses and asking people to share their stories and contribute to a communal story. When asked, the majority of children have jumped in, contributing not one, but many ideas. Some responses from adults have been ‘I’m not very good at this’ or ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I can’t think of anything clever.’ I have watched that as people begin to get their ideas down and put them together as a collaborative project, the fear subsides. The shared experienced of telling stories together becomes fun and takes on a momentum of its own, not controlled by fear.
At Mary Arden’s farm we used the story circles to tell a story, using contributions from people of all ages. We played with the ideas and used made up words and silly scenarios. We sat in a circle and laughed and the feeling of ‘I’m not very good’ began to disappear. Often, we are quick to tell people about the things we are not good at, the things we feel we are failing at. We forget to play, we decide upon how something should be before we’ve begun the process of actually doing it. I imagine that Shakespeare was constantly playing with ideas, using scenarios and drawing upon his experiences. I expect that he experienced failure and self-doubt but he did it anyway and, well, we know what came out of that!
The next part of our story takes us to Mary Arden’s farm.
Mary and William were blessed with two more children, twins by the names of Hamnet and Judith. The three children had inherited characteristics from their parents are were blessed with strong spirits and inquiring minds. As a child, William had spent many years playing and helping with tasks on the farm where his step-grandmother, Agnes, lived. It was here, on this farm that Shakespeare would be told tales of Robin Hood and George the Dragon, for his Grandmother was a great storyteller.
The three children loved their Grandmother Mary. She was a kind woman, bright and articulate. She had a childish spirit but treated everyone with fairness. Mary showed her grandchildren how to tend to the crops and take care of the livestock.
‘Grandmother, please may I ride on the horse in the paddock? For I am big and strong and I am sure I shall be very good.’ Hamnet asked his Grandmother one day.
‘Hamnet, I am sure that you shall be very good and I can see how bug and strong you are, but I am too busy to show you. Have patience my child. All in good time.’
But Hamnet, like his father, decided to defy his Grandmother and took hold of the horse in the paddock. He climbed atop the horse, and having watched the workmen before, kicked the horse to move forward. The horse did not move. So Hamnet kicked him again. And still the horse did not move. Hamnet became very angry with the horse and the more he kicked, the more the horse stood still.
Mary had been watching her Grandson from across the farm. She walked over to him.
‘Hamnet, I told you not to ride the horse. You disobeyed me.’ Hamnet looked at his grandmother as he sat atop the horse, tears streaming down his face. He was stuck.
Mary reached up and picked Hamnet off the horse. She smiled at him ‘One day, my child, one day.’
Sadly, though they did not know, that day was never to come.
Day Five - Shakespeare's Birthplace
On Friday, the Storytree came full circle on its Shakespeare tour. We began on Monday at Shakespeare's Birthplace and found ourselves back to where we had started. We met people from all over the world and found joy in meeting one another, connected through Shakespeare. Having spent most of my life living and working in Stratford, I forget about its importance on the worldwide stage. I shall admit that as I cycle along Henley street on my Storybike, I find myself getting annoyed with the hosts of visitors who swarm around the birthplace of Shakespeare who seemingly do not notice me and my need to get where I am going as quickly as I can! Throughout this week, I have listened as visitors have told me, with great excitement, what a dream it is to visit the home of Shakespeare. I have heard stories from people who had once visited Shakespeare's Stratford on their honeymoon and are now bringing their children to visit.
Amongst the many people I spoke to on Friday at Shakespeare's Birthplace, was a young woman from Taiwan. She told me of her travels in England and shared with me stories of her life and work in Taiwan. She talked about a place at home in Taiwan, where people sit, on the ground and under a tree and share books and stories. I listened to her as she described this place and how much it meant to her to go there to share stories and meet people. Now, she was in Stratford, at the home of William Shakespeare sitting under the Storytree. Clio, this next part of our Shakespeare story is dedicated to you and everyone under the Storytree in Taiwan!
William proved himself to be a great author and playwright and made a fortune writing plays and putting on performances in London. He spent his time in the capital and, back at home, in Stratford-upon-Avon. One evening as he was busy writing in his study, he heard Judith call out.
‘Father, Father, come quick! Something is wrong with Hamnet and I do not know what.’
He rushed to Hamnet and upon seeing his motionless body he sent for the doctor but it was too late. Neither William nor the doctor could do anything to revive him. The death of Hamnet echoed through the house causing great suffering to both William and Anne and to his sisters.
Not long after Hamnet’s death, William bought a new house in Stratford. The house sat within two beautiful gardens and orchards and the family was very happy there. Both William and Anne loved the countryside and being close to the natural world soothed their grieving hearts. The family experienced many joys and sorrows over the coming years. The death of William’s mother brought with it the pain of losing a treasured family member but the birth of a beautiful granddaughter gave the family much to celebrate. They named her Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and William spent eight happy years sharing the special bond that is created between a Grandfather and Granddaughter.
In April 1616, the same month of his birth, William died.
His beloved family was left grieving but there was still joy to be found, for Shakespeare had written a great many stories and within each one, a part of him was to be found.
Find out more about Kate's work on her Storytree Facebook page.