Stratford-upon-Avon was Shakespeare’s hometown and he lived there until he moved to London in the early 1590s. Shakespeare grew up on Henley Street, just a few minutes’ walk away from the Town Hall. It was a central location as the Town Hall was the centre of civic life after a royal charter from Edward VI made the town an independent township in 1553.
His father, John Shakespeare, held numerous positions of authority in the newly-formed town council at Stratford-upon-Avon before William Shakespeare was born. He served as a constable in 1558, as chamberlain between 1561 and 1563, When Shakespeare was a young boy his father was made an alderman in 1565 and held the highest office in the town when he became bailiff a few years later. When his father’s fortunes declined during Shakespeare’s teenage years, Shakespeare travelled to London to make his own way in the world.
Richard Field was another young man from Shakespeare’s hometown who left Stratford-upon-Avon to move to London. He would later become a printer. It was Richard Field who would print Shakespeare’s first narrative poem, Venus and Adonis, in London in 1593. Near Richard Field’s home on Bridge Street was the medieval bridge to London. The Clopton Bridge, which was built by Sir Hugh Clopton in 1480, was the way Richard Field and William Shakespeare made their way out of Stratford-upon-Avon to make their fortunes in London. Shakespeare would become very familiar with this bridge later in life as he travelled to and from London.
Although Shakespeare spent most of his adult life in London, he never forgot his hometown or the ancient woodland of the Forest of Arden where his family came from. The Forest of Arden in As You Like It may have taken its name from Shakespeare’s memory of the woods around his hometown and from his mother’s family name. The banished Duke speaks of life in these woods as ‘more sweet’ than the day spent in the ‘envious court’:
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery. These are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in everything.
I would not change it.
(Act 2 Scene 1)
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