Shakespeare's Shrine: The Bard's Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's Shrine: The Bard's Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's Shrine: The Bard's Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's Shrine: The Bard's Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

Synopsis

As the first major study of Shakespeare's Birthplace during the nineteenth century, Shakespeare's Shrine draws on extensive archival research to describe the invention of the Birthplace in the Victorian period, when the site was purchased for the nation, extensively restored, and transformed into a major tourist attraction. Julia Thomas is author of several books, including Pictorial Victorians and Victorian Narrative Painting, and is Director of the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research at Cardiff University.

Excerpt

I will no longer conceal the fact from an excited world: I am
the man—the miscreant—the morbid maniac—the
misguided wretch, if you will have it so, who burned down
Shakespeare’s house, on the night of the eigh teenth of March,
one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven.

—J. Hollingshead, “A Startling Confession” (1857)

Fortunately for the modern-day tourist, Shakespeare’s house was not really burned to the ground in the middle of the nineteenth century; it still stands on Henley Street in the English market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, where it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. This fictional act of destruction takes place in the context of “A Startling Confession,” a short story that appeared in the Train magazine in 1857. the self-styled “morbid maniac,” who narrates this tale, is driven to arson when his masterpiece, a tragedy in twelve acts with seventy-two scenes, fails to get staged in theaters saturated with productions of Shakespeare’s plays; “I could have wrung the neck of the Swan of Avon,” he, perhaps understandably, seethes. the narrator’s last hope quite literally goes up in smoke when his tragedy, which has been deposited in the (exceedingly strong) hands of a theater manager, is incinerated, along with the theater, during a per for mance of—you’ve guessed it—one of Shakespeare’s plays. He determines to wreak a terrible revenge: “I decided at once to destroy the shrine of the saint,—the butcher’s shop,—the miserable hut at Stratford-on-Avon.” the very next day sees him traveling to Stratford, setting fire to Shakespeare’s Birthplace with breathtaking ease, and returning to London in the mail train from Warwick, the story . . .

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