Foundation students trip to Shakespeare’s birthplace

The English Foundation group recently embarked on a study visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon where we spent the day embracing the legacy the local luminary William Shakespeare.

Peter Beswick
School of English Foundation student

English trip to Shakespeare - primary

Braving the quasi arctic autumn weather, we set off en route to the Shakespeare Institute; a postgraduate institute and division of the University of Birmingham where research is dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare and the works of his Renaissance contemporaries. There, we were greeted to an informal lecture with the Professor of Shakespeare Studies and Deputy Director of The Shakespeare Institute, John Jowett. Professor Jowett informed us about his area of research which was focused on the editing of and textual study of Shakespearean and early modern dramas, adding emphasis on the importance of preserving the original texts of the period and the reliance that editing has on these surviving manuscripts. A particular focus was given to Troilus and Cressida as we would be seeing Gregory Doran’s production of the play later that day. A so-called “problem play”, Troilus and Cressida is based on Greek myths and legends, a section of history which was very popular in the Renaissance period. Our main reason for seeing this play was because the play’s historical context and literary content ran parallel with our “Literature in Time” module in which we studied the earlier Shakespearean tragedy Coriolanus.

Later that afternoon, the group toured Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Here, we guided ourselves through the house where the playwright spent some of his formative years, and this allowed us to collect an image of what it was like to live in Shakespeare’s time. An incredibly enjoyable feature came at the end of the house tour, where actors performed Shakespearean monologues at request for us despite the almost subzero climate. 

After an hour or so of recreational sightseeing around the history-rich streets of Stratford, we went to watch Gregory Doran’s production of Troilus and Cressida. Dornan’s adaptation was set in a steam punk Mad Max-esque era. The frightening, almost imposing, nature of this retelling added gravitas to the battle scenes of the ongoing Trojan War, and bought attention to the romantic aspects of the play where there is no evidence of conflict. The drama was accompanied by the music of Virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie whose score added to the steam punk aesthetic, using an ensemble of sheets of metal as instruments. Apart from one mishap with a malfunctioning trapdoor causing a halt in the performance, Dornan’s adaptation deserves high praise for concentrating on the Shakespeare’s incredibly emotionally charged narrative. Credit too, should fall to the performers who continued to hold the audience’s attention despite the interruption. 

The study visit was a wonderful opportunity, as it helped provide further guidance with our course, but also allowed us to see what studying English allows one to gain exposure to, whether it be further research into a specific period of literature, or adapting that knowledge of a period into the world of Drama, or the related arts. The trip highlighted just how much there is available to anyone studying English, and the possibilities that are open to for readers of the subject.