Shakespeare Slept Here: Hidden Old Room In Oxford Once Hosted The Bard

ShakespeareBehind an eighteenth-century facade in downtown Oxford, just above a clothing shop, is a bedroom that was once used by William Shakespeare.

It was part of the Crown Tavern, owned by Shakespeare’s friend John Davenant. The Bard frequently stopped in Oxford on his trips between Stratford-upon-Avon and London. A nearby courtyard may have hosted his troupe’s performances.

Known as the Painted Room, it’s been remarkably preserved since Elizabethan times and still has hand-painted wall decoration from the late 16th century. This rare artwork survived thanks to oak paneling installed in the following century, and was only rediscovered in 1927.

Part of the decoration includes a religious text:
“And last of thi rest be thou
Gods servante for that hold I best / In the mornynge earlye
Serve god devoutlye
Feare god above allthynge. . .”

This week the Oxford Preservation Trust is offering guided tours of the Painted Room. If you can’t make it, BBC has posted a video tour of the room, led by some silly guy in an anachronistic tricorne hat. The Trust is also working on making the rooms permanently available to the public.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The British Museum has great lineup for 2012

British Museum
Travelers to London this year will want to stop by the British Museum. Not only is it one of the top museums in the world, with huge collections from the Classical, Egyptian, Medieval, and pretty much every other period, it also hosts several temporary exhibitions every year. As a regular visitor to London I always make sure to see as many of these exhibitions as I can.

The first is Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam (January 26–April 13). This show examines the pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all Muslims. It looks at the major pilgrimage routes and how they’ve changed over time, how the Hajj is practiced today, and the city of Mecca itself. Historic artifacts are displayed next to contemporary artwork.

The Arabian theme will continue with The Horse: Ancient Arabia to the modern world (May 24–September 30). Having ridden Arabian horses, I have to say they’re the noblest animals on the planet and I’ll be sure to make it to this show to learn something of their origins. More than that, the exhibition looks at the horse’s role in society and its influence on Middle Eastern and European history. Items from the museum collection as well as loaned items will be on display, including the four-horse chariot from the Oxus Treasure, 1st–2nd century AD representations of horses from the ancient caravan site of Qaryat al-Fau in Saudi Arabia, and hi-res panoramas of recently discovered rock drawings of horses.

Shakespeare: staging the world (July 19–November 25) is bound to attract many of the Olympic visitors. The exhibition will look at how London was becoming a major world city during Shakespeare’s time. The British Museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the exhibition’s design in order to accentuate the connections between the objects, Shakespeare’s writing, and performance.

One gallery I’ve always liked is the money gallery with its huge coin and paper currency collection. It’s often overlooked by visitors who only want to see mummies. Not surprising, considering how incredible the museum’s Egyptian galleries are. Now the gallery is being completely refurbished and reopening as the Citi Money Gallery in June 2012. It will look at the story of money from prehistory to the present. The museum says, “themes include the authority behind money, and the uses and abuses of it.” Sounds more relevant than mummies.

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In addition to the major shows, several smaller exhibitions are planned. These include Angels and ducats: Shakespeare’s money and medals (April 19–October 28), Picasso prints: The Vollard Suite (May 3–September 2), Chinese ink painting and calligraphy (May 3–September 2), The Olympic trail (title to be confirmed, June 1-September 9), Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings made in Spain (September 2012 – January 2013).

The Asahi Shimbun Display, Room 3, just to the right as you come in through the main entrance, hosts exhibitions dedicated to a single object and its place in the culture that created it. From February 2-May 6 there will be a model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre made of olive wood and mother-of-pearl in 17th-century Bethlehem. It was originally a pilgrim’s souvenir. From June 7-September 9 you’ll have a chance to see a riff on the Discobolus, the famous Roman marble statue of a discus thrower, yet another nod to the London Olympics. Instead of the usual naked athlete, it’s Mao-suited Discobolus by the contemporary Chinese artist Sui Jianguo. Purists can see the real statue in the Great Court nearby.

So if you’re in London, make sure to pop by the British Museum. After that, take an evening stroll through surrounding Bloomsbury and admire the Georgian architecture. It’s one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city.

10 landmarks for lovers of Western literature

shakespeare and company bookstoreAre you an enthusiast of everything Voltaire? Can you not get enough of Shakespeare and James Joyce? If you are a lover of Western literature, add these 10 landmarks to your upcoming travel itineraries.

The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
Paris, France

It is only right that the first landmark on the list be in Paris, France, as this is where many French writers, such as Voltaire, Proust, Balzac, and Baudelaire spent most of their time. The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore has had some of the most well-known writers of the 20th century as clientele, including James Joyce, who published his famous Ulysses under the stamp of this bookshop. In fact, the founder of Shakespeare and Co., Sylvia Beach, was close friends with many of these writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. What’s also special about this shop is not only do they host literary walking tours around Paris, but you can also sleep there as long as you help out with the chores.erneest hemingway houseErnest Hemingway House
Key West, Florida

Not only is Key West home to beautiful beaches and energetic nightlife, but it’s also a place with a literary history. In fact, Ernest Hemingway himself lived at 907 Whitehead Street for more than ten years. It was at this house that he created some of his best work, including the final draft of A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. While Hemingway passed away on July 2, 1961, his old home is now a museum that is open to the public.

The Globe Theatre
London, England

According to David Joshua Jennings and John McCarroll at BootsnAll, the Globe Theatre was built in 1599 and hosted some of the most influential verses to date. Even the notorious quote “All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players” was uttered by William Shakespeare himself at the Globe. While the original theatre burned down in 1844, it was rebuilt to be almost exactly like the original. Attendees of this theatre should expect to sit on simple wooden benches, just like in the days of Shakespeare.

Walden Pond
Concord, Massachusettes

It was at this site that Henry David Thoreau wrote his novel Walden, which he wrote during his two years living on the pond from 1845 to 1847. His home was a small hut on a piece of land owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. This area helped to inspire the novel itself and was also influential in the American Romantic movement in literature. Today, the pond has been made into a state park where visitors can hike through trails, explore Walden Woods, or see the replica of Thoreau’s cottage.

Vesuvio Cafe
San Francisco, California

Travelers should love this landmark as it is the stomping grounds of many Beat Generation writers including Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsburg. The cafe is also right across the street from the famous City Lights bookstore. According to Stephanie Yoder at BootsnAll, there is a famous story of Kerouac “holing up in the bar, getting incredibly wasted and missing an important meeting with Henry Miller”. If you visit, be sure to order The Jack Kerouac, a mixture of rum, tequila, and orange juice.

Chelsea Hotel
New York, NY

There are few hotels in existence that could rival the clientele of Chelsea Hotel, which includes Titanic survivors, Bob Dylan, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Wolfe, and many other famous actors, writers, musicians, celebrities, and directors. Madonna’s Sex book was even photographed in room 822. The hotel is a cultural hub of art and literature, and visitors interested in learning about the hotel’s literary past can book a public tour.

james joyce dublinJames Joyce’s Dublin
Dublin, Ireland

While this technically isn’t a landmark but a series of related landmarks in one area, it is definitely worth adding to the list. James Joyce, Ireland’s most famous author, used Dublin as an influence for much of his work. In fact, a fun activity for visitors of Dublin is to trace the different sites that are mentioned in his writing. For the full James Joyce experience, start at the James Joyce Center, where you can see a recreation of the writer’s bedroom, then head over to the James Joyce Tower and Museum. Another noteworthy landmark is the House of the Dead, a small museum created in the house where Joyce spent his Christmases and is the setting in his novel Dead.

Mark Twain Museum
Hannibal, Missouri

Mark Twain, according to Michelle Fabio at BootsnAll, was born Samuel Clemens in 1835 in Hannibal, Missouri, the town that inspired his famous Adventures of Tom Sawyer novels. To honor Twain’s memory, the town has created the Mark Twain Museum, which is comprised of eight buildings that all played an important part in Twain’s youth. If you want to see the house where Twain grew up, visit 208 Hill Street, where you will find recreations of what the home looked like when it was still being inhabited by the author himself.

The Brontë Parsonage Museum
Haworth, England

Come to England and you can visit the home of three of the most famous 19th century British authors, Charlotte, Emily, and Ann Brontë (although their pen names were Currier, Ellis, and Acton Bell). These three were responsible for works such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. At the museum, you will see the dining table where these authors brought their ideas to life, as well as old photographs, original furniture, letters, and manuscipts.

The Eagle and Child Pub
Oxford, England

According to Stephanie Yoder of BootsnAll, not only is this a nice place to relax with a cold beer, it’s also the home to creative thinking. One infamous writing group, who dubbed themselves the Inklings, would meet here once a week to have a drink and compare manuscripts. Some names you may have heard of include CS Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, and JRR Tolkien who created The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Have a seat at their old table and take in the moments, sketches, and photos of these famous writers.

Shakespeare’s first theatre discovered

Archaeologists in the London borough of Shoreditch have uncovered the city’s first theatre, and the first that staged Shakespeare’s plays.

Named simply “The Theatre”, it opened in 1576 and the game is afoot to build a new theatre on the site. The Theatre Appeal is raising money for the project and plans to install glass floors so visitors can admire the original Elizabethan floor and foundations.

The Theatre was disassembled in 1598 and the beams used to build Shakespeare’s more famous venue, the Globe. The reason for this move was that the landowner had a dispute with Shakespeare’s troupe and threatened to kick them out. So the Bard and friends waited until the landowner was away for Christmas, took the building apart, and spirited it to a new location.

A reconstructed Globe offers daily performances on the south bank of the Thames. The faithful reproduction gives you the feel for the original without the toothless peasants, dead cats, and outbreaks of the plague. You can even buy cut-rate tickets for the “groundling” section, a standing-room-only area in front of the stage. The performances are of uniformly high quality. Having lived in London for a year, I put it on my top ten list of things for visitors to do. A reconstruction of The Theatre would give Shakespeare lovers a double-dose of the The Bard.


Public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Daily Pampering: Private opera in London

What better way to experience the opera than nestled in your own private balcony under a starry night in London? Central London’s The Courtyard at 51 Buckingham Gate is offering just that for opera lovers, or for those who want to experience the opera in uniquely intimate way.

Michelin star chef, Sriram Ayur, will prepare a special menu for the evening, complete with cocktails and after-dinner drinks. The Victorian fountain, the Shakespearian frieze on the façade of the buildings and the tended flowerbeds add elegance to the Courtyard at 51, which will be transformed into an outdoor Opera house complete with scenes from balconies of this Taj hotel.

Opera performances are courtesy of The Covent Garden Strings Company, who have written the opera specifically for the Courtyard at 51. The performance takes into account the history of the hotel, as well as some of Shakespeare’s most pivotal moments from nearby London townhouses, including the famous scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The best part? This particular Daily Pampering doesn’t cost much, once you get to London. The evening at the opera costs only $88/per person (£59.50), but the experience of your own intimate opera in London is priceless. 51 Buckingham Gate is a member of the Taj Suites and Residences, so you can add to this pampering with a night in one of the hotel’s 86 elegant suites, complete with butler service.

The performances only happen four nights this summer: July 30th and 31st and August 20th and 21st, 2010.

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