Shakespeare's Schoolroom & Guildhall

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Posted 2021-09-04 by Cressida Ryanfollow
Close to the centre of Stratford lies the Guildhall. Once Henry VIII had clamped down on religious guilds, new uses were found for their buildings, and in this case, it became a school, the school where Shakespeare received his education. Shakespeare's Schoolroom is an interactive peek into how this Tudor building in Stratford came to educate one of the world's most famous poets, and continue through the generations beyond.

Opened in April 2016, Shakespeare's Schoolroom is a curated visit around the Guildhall. You start with a short film about the history of the building, and the basics of Shakespeare's schooling. Although he's famously known for 'Small Latin and Less Greek', it's clear that the Classics played a huge part in his education. This is particularly true of drama, and the film highlights the part the Guildhall played in introducing Shakespeare to travelling actors, particularly when they performed in private to get a licence for public performance. In this first room, you also see the treasure chest, with its three locks to ensure consensus in accessing funds. You also visit the hall where banquets would take place, learning more about the religious guild which underpinned this place, and its development through the Reformation.

More is being discovered about this place all the time. Like an onion, it reveals layer after layer. Some have been harmed by poor conservation in the past, but the discovery continued. In the tiny priest's chapel, a painting on the rerodos was found to contain two St John's, possibly in acknowledgement of the role of John the Baptist alongside the existing Johannine portrayal. This is now a protected artwork, but you can see it, when not covered by a screen on which you'll also be shown a video construction of it.

As you climb the stairs there are portraits of headteachers for King Edward VI school , reminding us that this educational legacy remains, it's just that the school has moved on a bit. The master's room includes a range of exhibits to help us understand more about Elizabethan childhood. The wooden table in the centre is a mass of carved names and initials. Vandalism? Yes and no. More student-style historical record. Generations of prefects have left their IDs inscribed on the table. Tablets attached to it help you explore it, explaining who some of the better-known individuals are.

On the wall are remnants of red paint, which recent research suggests may be a Last Supper, further witness to the building's religious heritage.

Through to the next room and you can sit on 'forms', benches with storage space, giving their names to British school year groups, to experience a little living history from a teacher, or magister, Thomas Jenkins by name. Learn a little basic Latin, see the apple basked for good behaviour, or birches for bad behaviour (punishments dealt out on Fridays), and hear about how the school day started at 6 am, who attended, and what they learned. At the time of writing, a screen protected the magister for COVID-19 reasons.

For children, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved, or spot things. They can collect an activity booklet on the way in, with things to look for and questions to answer. These include looking out for little Lego figures, who carry tags with famous quotations. Can you not only find them all but identify the source of each phrase?

One object to spot is roped off next to the magister, and that's an original Elizabethan desk. Beautiful but fragile, the dark wood adds to the heavy atmosphere of the place and helps you to imagine what it might have been like to try to get an education in Shakespeare's day.

The 'Georgian room', so-called because of its desks, is still in use by the modern school. There's something wonderful and timeless about it. From the initials of the only four boys to have survived when smallpox hit the town, to hidden markings on the walls... there are little details everywhere. As visitors you get a chance to try playing with some contemporary toys, dressing up, or writing with a quill pen.

This is a gorgeous place to visit, as a building in its own right but also for the sake of the people who've passed through it, not just Shakespeare. Let it inspire you as you breathe in the atmosphere.

You do need to book a timed slot, not only for crowd management but because lessons and videos are shown in batches. Floors may not be entirely even, and the stairs would not be easily accessible to anyone with a pram or a mobility issue.

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