The Shakespeare trail
In celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday we’ve compiled a trail for Shakespeare enthusiasts across the land. Tread in the bard’s footsteps, see his portrait up-close and wonder at the famous beetle-wing dress Ellen Terry wore as Lady Macbeth.
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate’
- Sonnet 18
See eye-to-eye with Shakespeare at Hatchlands Park – home to one of the most famous portraits of the writer. The work is believed to have been painted from life. It hangs alongside a portrait of the androgynous Earl of Southampton – thought to be the ‘fair youth’ addressed in so many of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
‘Knight, you have beaten my men, killed my deer, and broke open my lodge.’
- Justice Shallow, The Merry Wives of Windsor
Legend has it that a young William Shakespeare was caught poaching deer here and was hauled up before the local magistrate – the first Sir Thomas Lucy. Shakespeare is said to have immortalised Sir Thomas as the fussy Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Charlecote Park is still home to a herd of fallow deer today.
‘Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' the milk of human kindness, To catch the nearest way.’
- Lady Macbeth, Macbeth
Ellen Terry was one of the first modern stars of the British stage and was famous for her portrayal of Shakespearean heroines. Her house, Smallhythe Place, contains a wealth of objects from her career – from annotated scripts, to paintings and props.
But perhaps the most impressive item of all is the beetle wing dress she wore to play Lady Macbeth in 1888, which is adorned with 1000 iridescent wings of the jewel beetle. The emerald and sea-green gown has been carefully conserved and can be seen at Smallhythe Place, along with a copy of the painting, by John Singer Sargent, which depicts Ellen in the costume.
Rufford Old Hall may have seen a performance by a young William Shakespeare himself. There is evidence that the Hesketh company of players, who performed in the late-medieval Great Hall in around 1581, included one William Shakeshaft – one of the many alternative spellings of Shakespeare’s name.
Blicking Hall’s most famous residents might be the Boleyn family but an earlier occupant, Sir John Fastolf, was an English knight who fought in the Hundred Years’ War. Reputedly, he was the inspiration for the comic hero Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
From Macbeth set against the backdrop of a moated house, to Henry IV on an island, or Romeo and Juliet performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men – enjoy your favourite Shakespeare play at an open air stage near you.