2014 is a very exciting year at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and around the world as we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. There’s always something new to discover, so whether you’re brand new to Shakespeare, or his number one fan, take a look around and become part of the story.

An Original Brew – Alison Gardiner Handcrafted Mugs


One of our unique retail items, made especially for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, is the Alison Gardiner bone china mug. It comes in two designs, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, and are hand-crafted and made in England.

The mugs feature colourful designs, created by Alison herself, rich in detail and with the name of the location shown on the handle. There’s also an image within the mug – on the Birthplace mug this shows William Shakespeare.


Creating the product is a labour of love. First, Alison designs and illustrates the mug artwork in gouache and ink; gouache is like watercolour but with more opacity, and was used by the Egyptians and was also popular with Rococo artists.

Mugs are fired and glazed in the Stoke-on-Trent potteries, after which they are decorated with a lithograph print (an authorised copy of the original work). It takes over five years to learn this craft. Mugs are then fired again before being despatched.

More Mug Facts:

  • It takes seven days to make each mug
  • Handles are separately cast and attached
  • Mugs are dipped in glaze and fired three times
  • Each mug has a mark on the base which identifies who decorated that mug
  • At each stage, mugs are checked for flaws and consistency to ensure they meet very high standards

Mugs are a personal and affordable purchase, ideal for a gift or to enhance the home. Every purchase supports the vital care and conservation of the Shakespeare houses and collections.

Visit our online shop to purchase your very own Alison Gardiner mug, or to browse through our range of other Shakespeare-related books and gifts.

South African ensemble takes on Shakespeare

With colorful African costumes and tribal drumming, the Isango Ensemble from South Africa makes its Washington debut as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Presentation Series.

The performers arrive at this first stop of their extensive U.S. tour with glowing recommendations and many honors for stage productions and films, among them the Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival in London, the Globes de Cristal for Best Opera production in Paris, and the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

Washington audiences will experience the troupe’s reimagined classics via bedazzling productions of Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute — Impempe Yomlingo” performed in repertory.

Read the full article from the Washington Times

Meet Our Award Winning Golden Guernseys!

!Last Saturday some of the team from Mary Arden’s Farm attended the Moreton in Marsh Show with our Golden Guernsey goat kids.

We were absolutely thrilled when they won first and second place in their class! Shashika Poopalasingham, our Care Farm Co-ordinator, also won the Best Novice Handler award.

These awards are the icing on the cake for a very successful goat enterprise at the farm, which has seen the first Golden Guernsey kids born this year, the first goats milked and the first cheese made. 

To follow these and other adventures, find Mary Arden’s Farm on Facebook.

Sign up for our free online course: Shakespeare and his World


We’re very excited to be embarking on another run of our hugely popular MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) ‘Shakespeare and His World’, from 29 September.

The 10 week course is completely free and offers up to 5 hours of learning materials each week, including video tutorials, forum discussions with other learners and suggestions for further reading.

Made in collaboration with the University of Warwick and FutureLearn, ‘Shakespeare and his World’ is hosted by Professor Jonathan Bate, who examines plays and cultural themes alongside a selection of treasures from the archives here at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The plays that will be discussed as part of the MOOC are:

The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Henry V
The Merchant of Venice
Anthony & Cleopatra
The Tempest

Don’t miss this great opportunity to enjoy a fascinating insight into the social contexts surrounding Shakespeare’s work. Find out more, watch the course trailer and sign up to take part in Shakespeare and his World.

Episode 4 of the ‘Show Me Britain’ series features Stratford-upon-Avon, including a quick look around Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Nash’s House, Mary Arden’s Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

Warwickshire farmers are faced with the ‘new woman’ in 1916

This post was written by volunteer Rebekah Owens and originally published on our Finding Shakespeare blog.

With conscription beginning in 1916, a shortage of male workers meant Warwickshire farmers had to consider other options, including hiring women.

Women working on the land near Stratford-upon-Avon, 1917

The shortage of labour due to the Military Services Act (conscripting men into the army) meant fewer men available to work on the land. Representatives of Warwickshire’s predominantly rural communities were anxious that, come March 1916, there would not be enough labourers to begin the farming season.

The solution had been to give the jobs on the land to women. After all, reported the Stratford Herald, in the papers stored in the Collections of the Birthplace Trust, the ladies were doing a sterling job already. They were taking over many jobs traditionally done by men, training as jewellers, operating level crossings, even working in aircraft factories.

There was also an assumption made that the Warwickshire women were reluctant to do the labour required. As the Herald reported, some farmers thought it would be difficult to get women “in the mind”, especially as they “now had to deal with the ‘new woman’ with new-fangled ideas”.

What the women themselves thought of this is not recorded. What is obvious is that, by March, there were already women working on local farms and doing a good job of it. At Henley-in-Arden, it was reported that some ladies were already doing “their bit”, such as Miss Nield of Bushwood Hall and one Mrs Wise of Lapworth. Ladies such as these, wearing their government-issue green armlets, their skirts a regulation fourteen inches shorter and eschewing boots for the recommended clogs were clearly not finding farm work particularly onerous!

This series of blogs supports a new exhibition at Hall’s Croft: ‘Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war’ – The First World War, Shakespeare and Stratford. The exhibition and blog project are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Read more posts on Finding Shakespeare.

Vote for Mary Arden’s Farm in the Soil Association Organic Awards

We’re very pleased to announce that Mary Arden’s Farm has been selected as a finalist in the Best Organic Farm Visit category in the prestigious 2014 Soil Association Organic Awards.

The farm was invited to enter this year when the Soil Association expanded the awards so that other organically-run entities, including attractions and holidays can be recognised. The other finalist we’re up against in this category is Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire.

Previously known as the Organic Food Awards, the awards have been showcasing the best in organic for 28 years. This year sees the inclusion of an online consumer vote, where the public will be able to vote for their favourites in each category throughout Organic September – a month long celebration of all things organic, led by the Soil Association.

You can cast your vote until 30 September at the Soil Association website, and the winners will be announced at an exclusive awards ceremony as part of their Annual Conference on Wednesday 8 October 2014. We hope you’ll be able to support us by encouraging your friends and family to vote online too!

Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Centre: 19 Sep

3 of the actors from our very own Shakespeare Aloud! acting troupe present a unique version of Romeo and Juliet in the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.

With a reputation for making Shakespeare accessible to all, these familiar faces from the gardens at Shakespeare’s Birthplace turn their attention to the greatest love story ever written with healthy doses of energy, romance and an extraordinary amount of costume changes!

With only three actors in the cast, this performance will reflect the traditions of Elizabethan players, who would arrive at a venues with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a huge amount of passion for their performances.

Following their previous successes with Twelfth Night, As You Like It and Macbeth, this production of the most popular play in the English cannon is most definitely not to be missed.

Tickets - £8 (£7 Friends) / £5 Concessions

Tel: 07753 684401

Pop Sonnets

Take a look at this site dedicated to creating Shakespearian style sonnets from modern pop songs. Great fun!

‘Like a glover’s paring-knife’: Beards and Manly Professions


In celebration of World Beard Day on 6 September, our Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies Anjna Chouhan looks at how beards could give a clue to a man’s profession in Shakespeare’s plays.

In the case of Shakespeare’s men, a beard is revelatory. According to Rev. Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer’s Folk-Lore of Shakespeare (1883), beard names were derived from professions: the bishop’s beard, the glover’s beard, the general’s beard, the clown’s beard, and the citizen’s beard, to name only a few. If a type of beard signified a profession, this must have been incredibly useful on the stage, in a context where audiences were looking for visual clues about characters.

One useful function of a stage beard was its indication of masculinity or, more properly, manliness. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, when the townsfolk are gossiping about Master Slender, they suggest that he has a ‘great round beard, like a glover’s paring-knife’. The shape, its density and suggested health of this beard set up the audience for a man in the prime of his manliness. Imagine the disappointment and hilarity for these people when they learn that in reality he has ‘a little wee face, with a little yellow beard’. Of course, the adjectives ‘wee’ and ‘little’ are derogative on various levels.

The absence of a beard suggests femininity and, more helpfully in the case of the plays, that the character is supposed to be a woman. Take Feste’s comment to Viola: ‘Now Jove, in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard!’ Naturally, Viola is not a man and therefore needs no beard: not on her chin.

Because beards were symbolic of manhood, ‘to beard’, became an expression of hostility, which is why Hamlet considers an attack on his beard as a simultaneous attack on his integrity: ‘Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?/ Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?

One important fact in Shakespeare’s plays is that a beard is uniquely a man’s domain. A woman with a beard is invariably dangerous. The witches in Macbeth, and the Witch of Brentford in Merry Wives, for instance, are unnatural, and their beards are the first indication that something is wrong.

Between biblical and literary depictions of bearded men as masculine archetypes, implicit cultural values were being placed on facial hair, linking beards to piety, competency and virility.

It is no wonder, then, that Shakespeare manly men all sport great big beards and that the poor Slenders of his canon, with their stubble and fair hair, are but ‘wee’ in every sense.