It is a truth universally acknowledged that a town in possession of a citizen of artistic and historical significance must market them to the fullest extent.
Apologies to Jane Austen for the above but having spent a few days in the hometown of another kind of famous author who was also mercilessly monetised, I felt it was apposite. I speak, of course, of one William ‘Got the Skillz, Ladeez fear my Thrillz’ Shakespeare.
Stratford-upon-Avon is described in my guidebook as ‘one of the most keenly honed marketing machines in the nation.’ It revels in Shakespeare; hostels paint quotations on their walls (although choosing ‘be patient and endure’ probably wasn’t the best advertising campaign), there are expensive souvenirs (approximately $16 for a fake quill pen), a multitude of pubs, hotels and cafes named in inspiration of the bard and his works, and the bus ride into town costs roughly $5.50, one way. As the driver said in reply to my disbelief “Catch a ride into Stratford, get ripped off for the day.”
Indeed, there just doesn’t seem to be that much else to do except get your ’speare on and some offerings are better than others, such as the informative and Patrick Stewart-featuring exhibit at Shakespeare’s birthplace versus the less impressive ‘house that Shakespeare’s daughter lived in’.
However, the main thing that makes the tourist trap that is Stratford not just bearable but beautiful (aside from its, you know, beauty) is the Royal Shakespeare Company. I managed to snake a standing seat at the performance of Richard II featuring former (if temporal adjectives can apply to the Doctor) Timelord David Tennant and from the first lines, after I’d finished putting my brain back into my skull, it was apparent: Shakespeare is making bank for Stratford for a reason.
The infatuation with the playwright becomes wearing very quickly, even for fans of the Bard, but hearing his words never does and it’s a wonderful cure for the excessive commercialisation all around. As Bill said, the object of art is to give life a shape – even if that shape comes with a little rattle of the money tin.