Shakespeare's birthplace
© Visit Britain
Shakespeare's birthplace

UK Family Breaks: Stratford with Kids

‘Thou beslubbering crook-pated maggot-pie!’

‘Thou mewling motley-minded baggage!’

‘Thou frothy beetle-headed scut!’

The Cussing Chair sits in the back bar of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and I’m sitting in it. Each time I pull up a little from the seat and plonk myself back down on it, a new poetic phrase emerges. My teenager swears back at me. Her curses are more modern day than 16th-century bard.

I’ve bought her to Stratford in the run up to her English A level. It’s my final attempt to try to encourage her to revise for her exams. Endless books and bribes haven’t worked. Even graphic novels of the complete works have failed. So I hope a trip to the bard’s birthplace might help her learn about Shakespeare without seeming to. It’s backdoor revision, disguised as a weekend away.

Essential to this ruse is a decent place to stay, otherwise she’d cotton on that this was really work. We’re at the lovely Arden Hotel – directly opposite the Theatre – so we can walk everywhere and eat well. I manage to convince me – if not my daughter – that everything we’re doing is educational.

Even a trip up the theatre’s new landmark tower becomes ‘spot a Shakespeare site’, as if it were a multiple-choice exercise. From this great height we can just make out Nash’s House, the bard’s final home, with its perfectly formed knot garden. We see a corner of Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter, stuffed with grisly apothecary equipment belonging to her husband, Dr John Hall. The spire of Holy Trinity Church thrusts up a short stroll along the leafy riverbank, where William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway are buried. Directly beneath us is the half-timbered Royal Shakespeare Company’s costume-making department, where doublets, jackets and corsets were made.

We map our day from the top of the tower, going on our own Shakespeare trail then back to the theatre for the night’s performance of ‘Macbeth’, my teenager’s (and thousands of others’) set text. I hope seeing Jonathan Klinger play the demented king on the RSC’s new thrust stage, mimicking the original 16th-century production, will boost her grades a bit.

Waiting in the foyer beforehand, I plonk myself down on the Love Seat – the counter to the Cussing Chair in the bar.

‘Love is like a child,
That longs for everything it can come by.’

‘If music be the food of love, play on.’

‘I would not wish any companion in the world but you.’

I’m moved by the poetry. I look at my daughter with watery eyes. Perhaps she’s not such a bad teenager after all. Perhaps I’m underestimating her.

‘Great we’re going to see ‘Macbeth’,’ she says, all enthused. ‘Can’t wait for my favourite bit.’

‘What’s that?’ I ask, thinking it might predictably be the opening witches around their bubbling cauldron, a scene this production has thankfully cut out. But it’s not.

‘The ice cream in the interval,’ she grins.

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