What is the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust?


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is all
about bringing Shakespeare to life, and that’s for everybody. Whether you’re a
lifelong Shakespearean expert, or whether it’s the first encounter with Shakespeare. We’re all about making those experiences come alive and be really meaningful for people. We’re a charity. We don’t get any regular government funding, so we’re
really reliant on every volunteer, every visitor, every donor. There’s something really important about
experiencing history where it happened. There’s a feeling that you can get in the pit of your stomach when you’re in the real place seeing the real thing, and coming to
Stratford does that for people. We’ve got this collection which consists
of the Shakespeare family homes. So there’s five houses that were connected with Shakespeare and his immediate family. The streets he would have walked on, the
places that he would have walked. The joy you get when you take somebody
new down, open up a box in the archives, and the excitement that they see, because they’re
seeing it for the first time, reminds you of why it’s so important, and so special,
for us to be working with these collections. That direct connection back
to Shakespeare the man is what people really like when they come to Stratford. Things like the parish register, where people can feel that direct connection back to Shakespeare. There’s his baptism record, there’s him being recorded in the world for the first time. The other artifact that that really sort of resonates with
visitors and makes them sort of take stock and go ‘wow!’ is something about the First Folio. This is the book where the plays appear together for the first time, and without that book we would’ve lost 18 of them in the mists of time. So there’s a number
of different challenges that face us here looking after these collections. It is often the scale of them and that the fact they continue to grow means that
storage is an ever-increasing issue and each of those items needs to be
catalogued. We might want to digitize it to make it available to our audiences, not
just here in Stratford, but around the world as well. And then we might want to conserve certain
artifacts to make sure that they survive, not for the next year, next five years,
but forever more. I’m standing on the site of New Place,
Shakespeare’s final home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Beneath my feet is
the area where Shakespeare would have lived with his family: his two daughters,
his wife. It is a place where we encourage all of our visitors make their
own personal connection with Shakespeare, the man, the writer, possibly the greatest
writer the world has ever seen. Well I was doing some guiding in the birth room, and I was talking to a Chinese student, and she clearly was very very moved, and she said at one
point, could she say a Chinese blessing? So I said, yes of course you can. So she stood
at the bottom of the bed, and then she started to cry, and she finished, and she
bowed, and she said, ‘Thank you for giving the world William Shakespeare.’ I think the unifying theme through all the
work we do is that we encourage people to make their own connections, to make their
own discoveries and conversation. Whether it’s with a seven-year-old who has heard a
word of Shakespeare for the first time, or whether it’s with that 90 year old who’s
been going to see plays for 50 years. For us it’s about making sure that people
not only understand, but that they also enjoy. There is something there for everybody,
whether it’s a touching point with a human story that’s been told and a way of expressing
an emotion that you felt but have not been able to voice for yourself, or whether it’s
just actually the pure excitement of learning about historical characters. Our work is
to actually make sure that people can find that connection.

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