Remembering Shakespeare by Dr. Satyabrata Rout
Stratford upon Avon, A small Elizabethan village, may be insignificant in the world atlas, but holds an important place in the art, literature and culture over the world. Situated upon a tiny streaming river, this medieval countryside township of England attracts thousands of tourists over the year not to spend a weekend but to feel and experience the presence of the greatest playwright of the world, who was born and grew up here to rule over the world theatre, literature and culture; William Shakespeare.
It took me three hours to reach Stratford upon Avon from central London. The road that leads to Stratford was full of serene natural beauty. The nature’s scenic visuals, the countryside landscapes and the gentle crystal water of the Avon River had definitely contributed spiritually in making of The Shakespeare.
This small city is 100 miles away from London and till date has retained its old and ethnic value in its culture and architecture. The houses on the streets reminded me of the Medieval Elizabethan England about which we have read only in the books. While passing through a small old bridge above the river, an unusual excitement engulfed me. Just attached to the bank of Avon is the world famous Royal Shakespeare Company (SRC) which campuses a huge red brick building. This theatre company is known to me for many years and they have traveled in India and presented Shakespeare many times. My curiosity of watching a play leads me inside the building. The authorities of the company were pleased to let me in and allowed me to visit the theatre though no show was going on at that time. However I could see a simple fragmental design of a set mounted for “As you Like it” for the evening production. I walked down on the stage, gallery, wardrobe, and their exhibition hall and moved straight to see the birth home of Shakespeare.
I passed through a cobbled old road; the Henley Street. On the both side of the road there were rows of old white thatched colonial buildings. Walking on the foot on the street will definitely remain a memorable experience in my life. There were lots of restaurants; English, Italian, Chinese, Indian… and some small countryside pubs crowded with people. It was Sunday and the whole township of Stratford was rejoicing and dancing near by the river, on the streets and at the eateries. It was a colourful noon with sun playing hide and seek behind the clouds by leaving its impression on the silver water of Avon through the Willow trees on its banks.
……I was standing in front of an old thatched mansion, the ancestral home of William Shakespeare. I was about to plunge into the history of Theatre; another world of fantasy and metaphor… into the creation of Shakespeare!!! I bought a student concessional ticket in 13 Pound and stepped inside the home where he was born 500 years ago in 1564 A.D. With my first step into the house, everything came alive. The life and work of that great bard stood aloft in front of me. His books, manuscripts, wardrobes, the model of his dream theatre; ‘The Globe Theatre’, his fireplace, kitchen, his birth cradle, old small bed with pillow, pen, small cutting knives, and everything was kept intact in their proper places… Nostalgia swamped me when I saw some of the old 17th century printed books of Shakespeare. Out of many, the one which was in my reach…. I wanted to touch it… to feel its sheer essence within me… With the permission of the guide I touched an open page… This was Henry Sixth; a play written by Shakespeare…
The guide told us… “The year when Shakespeare was born, there was plague around England which wiped out fifty per cent of the total population of the country. Prior to the birth of the poet almost all of his siblings had succumbed to death because of this dreaded disease. The survival of William Shakespeare from the mouth of Plague and to elevate to such a height was just a miracle. It was the destiny.”
After coming out of that two-storied small mansion, I started roaming around in a little garden attached to the house, once belonged to the poet. This flower garden attracted me. There was divinity all around in that small but beautiful garden. The tourists were gathering there to be photographed against the mansion… But I was searching for something else…. The colours of the roses, the various shades of dahlia, stalks, and pansies took me somewhere else…. My heart jumped leaps and bounds by what I discovered next! While roaming in this garden I was thrilled to see a small bust statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore-the voice of Indian literature. It was surrounded by Indian Rajnigandha and Jasmine flowers. I could not see any other poets of the world there except the Gurudev.
After coming out from the Shakespeare’s home, I went to see his grave. He was buried in the campus of Trinity Church, an old 15th century Catholic Church on the bank of Avon. I walked around the town, and rejoiced the serene atmosphere and returned back to London by late night.
However deep inside me, an issue haunted me the whole night…How much importance we have given to our poets and philosophers and to our literates? How much we care for them?
Have any of us ever visited the Tagore museum, his birthplace at Joda-shankho, at Shantiniketan, or the Tagore’s house in North Bengal near Jalpaigudi? Has any one of us ever thought of paying a visit to Maghar, the graveyard of the great Indian saint and poet Kabir Das!!!! Has anyone ever cared for Baishnav Pani of Oriya Gitinatya or Bhikari Thakur- the father of Videsia in Bihar? Indian culture is built by them and over the world the fragrance of their creation is outspread. We have inherited legendary things…but alas! we are hardly concerned about them. We have thousands of years of history but we did not keep any record of that. But here in west, they have few, but they know how to care for it and to put it in front of the world for everybody to appreciate and learn from it. When will we be considerate towards our heritage?
Dr. Satyabrata Rout is an Associate Professor of Theatre Arts at University of Hyderabad and is
presently a visiting Professor at East 15 Acting School, University of Essex, England.