Part of me still rides the train into the city through the early morning haze, and sits at a table by the thatch-roof cottage, sipping tea and admiring the serenity of Richmond Park. Some of me still frolics through the fields of Kew Gardens, the air rich with the scent of flowers. Part of me still cringes at the thought of steak and kidney pie, but yearns for fish and chips with mushy peas. There’s a bit of me still wandering the streets of Bath, still sitting in an elaborate theater as the first haunting notes of a musical ring out, still getting lost in the maze of King Henry VIII’s palace, still nursing a pint or a Pimms at a cozy pub as the sun sets. In a way, I’m still standing in Leicester Square as dusk descends on the city, not ready to go back to the flat and call it a night – and certainly not ready to go back across the sea.
I went to England to learn and take courses, but some lessons could only be learned after falling into a puddle in Paris, exploring castles, or chasing a cat through a graveyard after one-too-many pints of hard cider. My first foray into the world beyond the East coast of the United Sates was too short, and my heart still pines for the fresh sea air of the beach at Brighton and strolls across the Thames. I want to see a snow-kissed England in the winter, and find out if the leaves look beautiful in the fall.
The rest of me eventually got on a plane and came home. I miss the part of me I left behind, but I know we’ll meet again someday.
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In the late spring of 2014, I got to visit every English major’s dream locale; Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
I have actually been lucky enough to visit a few literature-based landmarks on my ventures across the pond, including the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie is one of my all-time favorite novels,) the infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 (though the ‘4’ had partially worn off when I went, so it was more like Platform 9 and 3/1… so Platform 12, I guess,) and the Jane Austen house in Bath. Stateside, I actually attended university in the same city where Dr. Seuss lived, and have seen many tributes to his works, including the famed Mulberry Street. The only place on my list I have left to visit is NZ (Hobbiton and such) and Tolkien’s grave in Oxford, which I did not have time to visit when I was there the last time.
But visiting Stratford is a different experience – more definitive, more meaningful. Because this is Shakespeare, we’re talking about. The MAN. The LEGEND. The BARD.
There is, undoubtedly, a reason that Shakespeare stands virtually unparalleled as perhaps the greatest wordsmith in history. Someone might personally find his writing boring or dull, his poems too florid, his histories tedious, his tragedies overly dramatic. I am especially fond of Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see All’s Well That Ends Well at the Globe Theater in London, plus I adore all of his poetry that I’ve read, and his sonnets are brilliant. However, I would be lying if I said that I like all of his works.
I am not a big Richard II fan, for instance, and I’ve struggled with reading some of his works in the past, so I guess I’ll never earn a true membership to the Shakespeare fan club.
But regardless of personal opinion, it’s impossible to deny that his influence has left a lasting impression on the literary world. The man paved the way for future literary giants and created stories, characters, words, and plots that continue to color and impact the writing of others to this day, centuries later. His works, from his sonnets to his plays, are still taught because of how dynamic, malleable, and utterly powerful they are, and there are hundreds of adaptations and versions of his work out there for consumption, a testament to his genius. His legacy has endured, and will likely continue to endure, for as long as writers and readers find something resonant in his words, and I wholly believe literature would not be what it is today without him. Besides, we have good ol’ Willie to thank for the words “besmirched,” “dwindle,” and perhaps most importantly,”hobnob.”
Sadly, I was on a time limit when I visited the Shakespeare house in Stratford, but for the brief time I was there, I got to experience quite a bit. Some actors put on a passage of a play (I believe A Midsummer Night’s Dream) for us while we snacked on scones and champagne/OJ, then we got to free-roam around the garden outside and tour the actual house at our leisure, as long as we met at the designated meeting place on time. I also might have shoved a gaggle of rambunctious French schoolchildren out of the way for a photo of Shakespeare’s cradle, but hey, my options were limited. Pardonne moi wasn’t working, their teacher wasn’t wrangling them in, and I wasn’t about to let them stand in my way of that photo op. I also procured a book of sonnets from the gift shop to add to my shelf, right next to my mini-edition of Romeo and Juliet that I bought at the Globe.
Before our tour group departed Stratford, so we could then head off to Bath and Stonehenge by way of the Cotswolds, I got to take a photo (see above) outside of the house. My dad took the photo, and he did not know how to use the zoom on my camera, so that’s why it looks like it was taken from a distance. And I had to crop some obnoxious kids out of the frame. But looking at the photo now, and recalling my visit to the birthplace of the Bard, I have a new perspective.
Being there, and learning about Shakespeare’s life, writings, and his massive accomplishments… it made me feel quite small. Not in a bad way, though. It’s not like I had an existential crisis about my mortality and my writing ability, bemoaning that I’ll never be as talented or leave an untouchable legacy as influential as Shakespeare. Because let’s face it; no one’s ever gonna do that, and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that such efforts are wasted; that attempts to create beauty are all for naught, when such great lofty heights are impossibly distant. Creativity comes in various forms – small, large, far-reaching, close to the heart.
In this universe, we are all small. But being small isn’t so terrible, especially in a world as immense as ours; in fact, one might say that this great world consists of small things and would not exist without them. Though we may be small, everyone is capable of greatness in some capacity. As the Bard would say,”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” If we are all players, not everyone will have the same role to play in their life; the spotlight might shine on a deserving star, while someone else is more suited to a side role, or even relegated to the stage crew. But in your own life, your own little life, you have the main role – and the stage is yours. Your role is what you make of it and your path is yours to forge, in your own life and on the world’s stage.
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