Stratford-upon-Avon helped to form William Shakespeare. From 1564 to 1596, Shakespeare was identified primarily with one house: his parents' home, a substantial family dwelling on Henley Street. The house on Henley Street was Shakespeare's portal on to the town and into the wider world of the imagination. Commerce and traffic to the town increased significantly from 1492 once Hugh Clopton had built the bridge across the Avon. For Shakespeare, the place of education was thus closely related to the costumed activities of civic authority and theatrical productions. John Shakespeare removed his eldest son from the school to learn the family trade of glove-making. He married Anne Hathaway of Shottery in November 1582. In the same year that Shakespeare married, Alexander Aspinall was appointed as the schoolmaster and continued teaching until his death. From Shakespeare's childhood until into his thirties, Stratford-upon-Avon continued to host theatrical performances.
This chapter argues that Shakespearian biography in relation to New Place needs thorough revision and a greater level of nuance in order to increase understanding of Shakespeare's relationship to Stratford-upon-Avon. Nicholas Rowe was the first to present Stratford-upon-Avon and New Place as Shakespeare's retirement home. The major Shakespeare biographies into the twenty-first century bear witness to the still-popular trope of Shakespeare's retirement. Anne Shakespeare, and her lucrative, working-day world as manager of New Place, are an important part of Shakespearian biography. Shakespeare's brother Gilbert provided crucial assistance with Shakespeare's business affairs, and represented his older brother in his purchase of 107 acres of arable land from the Combes in May 1602. William's brother Edmund, sixteen years his junior, most certainly had ties with London. Shakespeare wrote at different speeds throughout his career, and some plays seem more polished than others.
This book provides an abundance of fresh insights into Shakespeare's life in relation to his lost family home, New Place. It first covers the first 6,000 years of the site, from its prehistoric beginnings through its development into a plot within the economic context of early medieval Stratford-upon-Avon, and the construction of the first timber-framed building. The book then describes the construction and distinctive features of Hugh Clopton's brick-and-timber house, the first New Place. Stratford-upon-Avon gave Shakespeare a deeply rooted love of family, loyal neighbours and friends, and although he came to enjoy a prominent social standing there, he probably had little or no time at all for its puritanical side. The book provides a cultural, religious and economic context for Shakespeare's upbringing; education, work, marriage, and early investments up to his son, Hamnet's death, and his father, John Shakespeare, being made a gentleman. It discusses the importance of New Place to Shakespeare and his family during the nineteen years he owned it and spent time there. The book also takes us to just beyond the death of Shakespeare's granddaughter, Elizabeth, Lady Bernard, the last direct descendant of Shakespeare to live in the house. It further gives an account of James Halliwell's acquisition of the site, his archaeology and how New Place has become an important focus for the local community, not least during the 'Dig for Shakespeare'.
In March 2010, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust started to lift the turf on the site of William Shakespeare's family home. This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book provides the first 6,000 years of the site, from its prehistoric beginnings through its development into a plot within the economic context of early medieval Stratford-upon-Avon, and the construction of the first timber-framed building. It describes the construction and distinctive features of Hugh Clopton's brick-and-timber house, the first New Place, and provides a detailed account of it. The book also provides a cultural, religious and economic context for Shakespeare's upbringing; education; work; marriage; and early investments up to his son, Hamnet's death, and his father, John Shakespeare, being made a gentleman. It discusses the importance of New Place to Shakespeare and his family during the nineteen years he spent time there.
Corroborative evidence supports the likelihood that the frontage as sketched by Vertue represents Shakespeare's own home-improvement. The appearance of the external architectural features is thought to be similar to those of New Place. Vertue's sketch portrays a three-storey, half-timbered, square-panel-framed building. Shakespeare's gentlemanly status would have been conspicuously displayed on the remodelled frontage. Shakespeare's treatment of the hall remains uncertain. It remained, however, firmly at the heart of the house complex. The archaeological evidence suggests that part-way down the southern range on the courtyard side, there was a change in room width. After comprehensive archival research and archaeological interpretation, new artistic representations of New Place during Shakespeare's ownership have been created by Phillip Watson. The reconstructions encompass the complete refurbishment of the frontage range, including the long-gallery storey with gabled dormers, and present the Chapel Lane service and rear entrances, projecting and Elizabethan-style windows, and decorative timberwork.
A thorough understanding of New Place encourages to think about William Shakespeare more as a resident and representative of Stratford-upon-Avon than as a citizen of London. In relation to Shakespeare's life, New Place represents his social status and aspirations more than any other aspect of it. Shakespeare's taste in a home reflects his literary sensibilities as a writer. Archaeological remains will never reveal anything about their effect on Shakespeare's own intellect, imagination and feelings. This is the task of a Sir Thomas Browne, or a sympathetic biographer. The cultural reputation of New Place after Shakespeare, until the demolition of the second house in 1759, is worthy of more consideration, as, too, are the life and legacy of his granddaughter, Elizabeth, Lady Barnard. In later years the relationship between the New Place and Nash's House becomes significant, and the shared ownership and questions about their boundaries are interesting.