Shakespeare on Horses
Tuesday, September 25
Shakespeare had a lot to say about horses!
“We find there is more in Shakespeare about horses than upon almost any subject outside of human nature.”“-Shakespeare Identified”, J Thomas Looney
Written in 1920 before it was easy to count words in masses of text it may be a little off, but the point is that Shakespeare spent a lot of time talking about horses.
Horses were obviously important in his time. If you went to war or to market or to visit grandma you needed a horse. There were big changes coming in the world of horses and horsemanship.
Shakespeare knew about 12 distinct breeds of horses. They had different characteristics and purposes. Henry VIII, bought a bunch of Barbary horses and his subjects were busily breeding them with English breeds and eventually developed the thoroughbred.
So if you hear: They’re Off! this is how it started.
His writing, in many places, seemed to give an almost moral component to the character of the horse. Humans also need them to fulfill themselves.
‘That Roan shall be my throne’Hotspur -1 Henry iv 2.3
Shakespeare has Macbeth say this to Banquo. “I wish your horses swift and sure of foot.” We hope so too! We are off to the races today!
We found last night’s dinner ingredients at Marks and Spencer (right behind the tee-shirts). At 5:30 this morning when we wake it’s 35 F. By 7:30 we are on the internet and eating almond croissants at the “Edgartown” cafe. We read the news, do a little business and enjoy the pastries and enormous cups of coffee.
Warwick Race Track
The Warwick Racetrack has a useful web page and we are happy to find enclosed stands. Jump racing is the most exciting of sports and we love to get near the horses but it’s good to know we can warm up and eat hot meals!
About 11 we take the short walk to the bus stop. Stratford on Avon is pretty, interesting and very compact. You can find entertainment here and get to lots of other places comfortably.
More Directions using the “Big Tree”
Another set of directions involving a “big tree.”(We used the “big tree” method to get home from Upton House earlier in the trip. The bus stops at a big tree in front of the McDonalds restaurant. I like the fact that people in this country give directions using natural elements. However, there are 3 big trees, nearby and nobody says “catch the bus in front of the 3 story McDonald’s”!
Horse Racing is so popular around here that the track has its own bus stop, just before the castle. The bus driver offers to point out the right stop. The huge wall in an otherwise urban neighborhood could only surround a prison or a racecourse so we knew the right stop.
Arriving a little early, we chatted with the guard who told us all the best places to watch from. Obviously a racing fan he pointed out the saddling paddock, winner’s enclosure and the food sellers he thought were best. On this long trip, we find people universally helpful.
Our best surprise
Throughout the trip, at almost every pub, along the waterways, we were told about the Hook Norton Brewery Hitch. This team of horses delivered the beer to pubs, but we never saw them and have decided that they were an urban legend.
Here they are, big and handsome. They are so accustomed to the celebrity that they strike a pose when your cameras come out! They are shiny bays with polish on both their harness and their manners! We eat fish and chips at picnic tables in the sun while the turf accountants set up shop.
This is National Hunt Racing
This is not like flat racing with the horses sent off from enclosed gates. These races are long and over undulating ground. The competitors form a ragged line at the start, milling and turning. The excitement is more raw-anything can happen.
The horses are not like flat racers either. These horses are bred to jump and amateurs can be involved in jump racing. In the Kentucky Derby, they are three years old and will be retired between ages 5-7. The jumping horses have long careers.
This allows even moderate horses to develop a fan base. The conversations around the rail are all about their habits, personalities, and statistics. They can be like baseball players -everybody knows their numbers.
This racing takes place throughout the winter when the ground is softer, flat racing takes place in the warmer weather. You will see warm clothing at jump racing; no straw hats with tulle bows!
The start looks fast but they have a long way to go. They come our way and we see them jump up close then they are gone, up a hill and out of sight. In the old days we kids waited with our hands in our mouths looking for our favorites to come back into sight. Now we have the jumbotron to keep in touch.
A favorite part for me has always been hearing the winners roar by and feeling the ground move under my feet. The winner is in the circle and the next racers enter the saddling paddock.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Laundry
Wednesday, September 26
The fun part is that we have tickets to the theatre tonight. We are going to see Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe. Its all about absolute power. A poor shepherd boy fulfills his dream and becomes a tyrant.
If we are not going to have the theatre to ourselves, we will need to do our laundry. The boat is moored near a well-stocked visitors’ center and we get directions to the laundrette.
Chores First-Theatre After
More almond croissants start the day at the “Edgartown Cafe”. We will miss them. The waitress tells us about bringing her little boy to Florida to Disney World-twice, he likes it.
The manager at the laundrette is very helpful. She watches our laundry while we go out to coffee. On the return to the boat, I pick up a flyer for Equi-Grass, a branded hay for performance horses. Shakespeare, living in this territory was surrounded by horses; he couldn’t help himself!
Returning to the boat we watch a narrowboat negotiate the tight turn out of the basin and into the canal. We will need to do that soon.
We fold laundry, I take a nap and Pete goes over the bridge to watch schoolboy rowing on the river. He said he watched boys having their first day in the boat.
Their coach tells them how to set the boat up and that they won’t just fall out! He remembers being them. There is an open park across the river you can reach it from the arched bridge or take the “Malvolio” chain ferry across the Avon.
The Black Swan-The Dirty Duck
We chat with Stu, our boating neighbor. He suggests we try the Black Swan for a pre-theatre dinner. It is a half-timbered building near the theatre and with a view of the Avon River. He tells us to check for the actor’s photos in the “Actors’ Bar.
It has been a popular pub since 1838. It has two signs at the front. Its name is the “Black Swan” but uses the name the “Dirty Duck” so regularly that it is the only English pub to have a license for each name.
Why the second name? Everybody takes credit for that, the locals, brewery workers who played darts here, the actors who frequent the place and even American GI’s stationed here in WWII.
Dinner is a good start to the evening. There are photos of prominent actors who performed at the theatre and drank here. We did not see anyone break Peter O’Toole’s speed record for drinking a yard of Ale!
There are no bad seats in this theatre. It seats just over 1000, around three sides of a thrust stage.
The play is in blank verse and the language is clear and interesting. We thought that Marlowe’s point was that this story was about a reformer who became a tyrant. This seems to be a story about a guy who enjoyed being a tyrant. We had better read it.
Home to the boat, across the park, it’s dark and quiet. It was a long play, 3hrs 20 minutes. The park buskers are quiet tonight.
How to Visit these Places
The Royal Shakespeare Company: Not expecting to be in Stratford on Avon on this trip, we were happy to find good seats for an interesting play at short notice. Check the website if you are planning to be in town.
The Black Swan Pub: This is an iconic pub with a great atmosphere and very convenient to the theatre.