1
BIRTH

the cruel times before ( John Foxe)


Stratford

Shakespeare's life began near the reflecting, gleaming river Avon, which today flows past Stratford's Church of the Holy Trinity where he lies buried, and past a theatre where his dramas are seen and heard by visitors from all nations. In rare flood times, the river was wild and destructive, sweeping away bridges and much in its path, but normally it was hospitable to truant boys or patient fishermen, and no guttered rocks or congregated sands imperilled any large keel here. The river arises in grassy highland in the east of England near Naseby, and for miles hardly deserves the name Avon, or 'river', which has echoes all over Celtic Europe: the Avon or Aven in Brittany, the Avenza in Italy, and the Avona in Spain. This Avon is at first only a runnel and then a willow-bordered stream, but below the old city of Warwick it is slow and stately as it divides Warwickshire and cuts the middle of England.

To the north is the Arden region, where the Forest of Arden was more thinly wooded in Shakespeare's day than in medieval times. Here were irregular fields, meadows, moated farmsteads, and groups of cottages, but few villages. South and west lay the Feldon, with new ornamental parks at Clopton and Goldicote, Ettington and Charlecote. Round about were fields cultivated in narrow strips, as well as tithe barns, villages, and black and white half-timbered cottages.

Stratford-upon-Avon, between Arden and Feldon, was a market town where goods from the two regions could be exchanged. Protected because it lay in the rain-shadow of Welsh hills to the west, it had a mild climate, Farmers found the Avon valley fertile and took

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