Our Mr Shakespeare

Registered: ​13th September 1944
Duration: 38 minutes
Feet: 3393 feet
Board of Trade Certificate number: ​AFF002403
Production Company: ​Federated Film Corporation

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Stratford 1944 (B&W)

Title and Credits:

Cinematography: A. Berger
Music And Orchestration: M. Raeburn
Recording: H. Sheridan
Continuity: P.P. Jeffcoat, Glenda Baim
Art Direction : N. Griffin
Story told by: Laidman Browne
Produced and Directed by: Harold Baim

The Producer's grateful acknowledgements go out to Constance Wellstood, Canon Prentice (Trinity Church), Rev. Knight (Grammar School), Roderick Baker (Mayor) of Stratford on Avon, and Canon Stevens of Southwark Cathedral....  and all those people who gave us such willing help and counsel and without whose co-operation this picture would not have been possible.


On the old Roman road of Watling Street stands an old stone monument, old as time itself, High Cross. It marks the center, the very heart of England.

Not very far away, we get a bird's eye view of a town where a man was born centuries ago, who has for all time warmed the heart of England.

Yes, we're in Stratford on Avon, that world renowned town that is built more than any other town, possibly in the world, on the name of one man. Stratford on Avon, geographically, yes, but commercially, surely. Stratford on Shakespeare. For the town exists by Shakespeare, through Shakespeare, with Shakespeare. And if you happen to be that one person existing in the world who doesn't go for our Mr. Shakespeare, then don't go to Stratford on Avon. For here, he can't be missed.

Standing with your back to the immortal Bard's memorial, you have a grand view of the Shakespeare Ye Olde Gift Shop, and the famous Shakespeare press.

Just down the high street, from where we were anyway, is the Shakespeare Garage, which manages to convey the impression that if it hadn't been for their quick repair service, William would never have gone to town.

The Shakespeare Memorial, unveiled in 1888 and removed to its present site in 1933, is a well known landmark to tourists who enter the town over the famous bridge.

Around this monument are grouped statues of some of his most famous characters; Falstaff, Prince Hal, Hamlet, and need I say it, Lady Macbeth.

There's a free ferry across the River Avon. A ferry that was in existence, though not in its present form, 300 years ago. It crosses the river that winds its way through the town. Delightful to look at, and flowing through exquisite scenery. But if you're in a hurry, then you go by ferry.

The old man who runs it, though not averse to your buying him a pipe of tobacco, knows his Shakespeare well, and whenever he looks at the notice, quotes out damned spot. And how right he is.

If perhaps we feel that Stratford is a little too commercial, who can blame the townsfolk for making good on the deeds and memories of one of their local boys who made good.

In the church of the Holy Trinity, known as Shakespeare's Church, we see the grave of our Mr. Shakespeare. Prophetic when he wrote 'such dreams that come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil', must give us pause. Yet on his own grave he's written; 'good friend, for Jesus sake, forbear to dig the dust and close it here. Blessed be ye man that spares these bones, and cursed be he that moves my bones'. His bones never have been moved, of course, yet many things have been added to the church as tokens of admiration.

A bust given soon after his death by his beloved wife, Anne Hathaway. The magnificent window presented to the church by the people of America. Another depicting the Seven Ages of Man, which he immortalized.

A grand and lovely church. Where beauty adorns beauty. But still the parish church, to which came a man and woman to baptize their infant son, William Shakespeare. And here in records can be seen the original entry of his birth. And that of his death.

To this church, people from all parts of the world come in their thousands throughout the year, and leave with his memory still in their minds. So naturally, their footsteps turned to a house nearby called New Place.

Built by the Lord Mayor of London in the reign of King Henry VI, Shakespeare bought this beautiful property in 1597. He lived there until the time of his death in 1616.

Charming Elizabethan sunken rock gardens are maintained in the style as he would have had them. Here, blooms Perdita's border, and all the flowers and herbs mentioned in the famous plays grow here in profusion.

Much of Stratford looks exactly the same as it did in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when Shakespeare lived here. These old parts contrasting strangely with the bustle of the modern town. Yet the serenity of old Stratford and the bustle that is modern Stratford are blended together.

And here is the grammar school that young Will attended in company with the sons of the local burghers and townsfolk.

Very little of this building has been altered since his day. Strange in this most English of places, that the game the boys are playing is an American one. Baseball. A far cry from the games of Merrie England.

Yet not so strange when one realizes the tremendous American interest in Stratford. For America, too, has a stake in this place of pilgrimage. Buildings are named after their best known figures in history; Washington Irving Hotels, Lincoln Villas, and Jackson Cottages. Not forgetting their own Harvard House. Where was born Kathleen Rodgers, the mother of Henry Harvard, founder of one of America's foremost universities.

The house was bought and restored by Edgar Morris, a native of Chicago, and presented to Harvard University.

The literary associations here are tremendous.

Furnished to the taste of our own Marie Corelli, it was built in 1596. And has weathered the storms of the centuries, and the doors are now thrown open to the hundreds of people who come every day to see this Old World residence.

But to return to our Mr. Shakespeare. This is his birthplace. A low half timbered building, which was for William's father, John, both home and business premises. He was a glover by trade, and it may be that in later years, when William's speaking of Juliet wrote: 'would I were the glove upon that hand', he was putting in a boost for his old man.

Having paid your sixpence, you can enter the gabled door of this 16th century home.

Here, amidst lovely surroundings, William Shakespeare came to manhood. Observing, remembering, knowing both happiness and sorrow. Writing his first sonnets, his earlier plays, first editions of which are amongst the many treasures of the Shakespeare Library.

Here is the famous First Folio. You will also be shown the actual Bible, written in English, Hebrew and Greek, owned and used by Queen Elizabeth.

The original tithes of the parish purchased by the poet.

Shakespeare's will, in which he leaves his second best bed to his wife. The deed of the house next door to his birthplace, belonging to William Wedgwood. A letter from his lifelong friend Quiney asking for a loan, which was not refused.

All these documents, written and worded in the way of the 16th century, though faded, they are legible and carefully preserved. Here are the first editions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. In fact, all his plays in which he let his imagination have full rein. Yet many are set in the county in which he lived, and it's these places which the visitors come to see. That part of England known as Shakespeare's country.

Here, the Forest of Arden, which formed the background for As You Like It and other plays, still stands, framing the countryside with its loveliness.

Mary Arden lived in this house as a girl. Little did she know, as she walked these lovely gardens with her husband to be, that one day she would become the mother of the greatest poet in the world.

Young Will spent many happy hours here with his mother and her people. Later, he perpetuated the name of Arden in many of his works.

Rounding a bend in the road, we see nestling in a garden of flowers, in the little village of Shottery, the childhood home of his own bride, Anne Hathaway. Her parents were old friends of the Shakespeares who welcomed the betrothal of their son William to Anne.

This house is a typical example of an old English farmstead belonging to well-to-do people.

It was from this window that Anne oft times in the evening spoke to her lover in the garden below.

Descendants of the Hathaway family still live in Stratford on Avon. Indeed, they lived in this house until 1911, when it was purchased by the nation. But the sightseers, proving too much for them, have driven them away.

And talking of driving, we know a guy who knows a guy who is a guy who's got some petrol. And in the days when cars were cars and not just something you put priority on, everyone drove to Broadway, which has its own great white way. No fooling.

Said to be the prettiest village in England. Inhabitants of the remaining prettiest villages please note.

It is certainly one of the most picturesque, with its grey stone cottages, its thatch and its air of belonging to another world.

A village of memories, a much visited beauty spot. Tourists are still able to enjoy the comforts of the most delightful and luxurious hotels.

It was here in Broadway that Queen Elizabeth stayed. The maypole, still garnished every year with its old traditions.

Many years ago, tremendous sheep fairs drew the populace from miles around. For before the trade went north, it was one of the two most important wool towns in England.

Climbing out of Broadway up the seemingly mountainous road called Fish Hill. One of the steepest gradients in England. One stops at the tower built by Lord Coventry in 1725. He was surely the originator of the phrase 'to take a good view', for from this tower, built solely for this purpose, you can see 13 counties. At least, so they tell us. Being an English summer, we couldn't see a thing.

Lord Coventry may have taken a view of 13 counties, but Shakespeare took quite a different view of eight villages mentioned in his plays; Piping Pebworth, Dancing Marston, Haunted Hillboro, Hungry Grafton, Dodging Exhall, Papist Wixford, Beggarly Broom, and drunken Bidford. Which brings us to the Falcon Tavern in Bidford. We suppose Shakespeare called it Drunken Bidford because being eighth on the list, any other place would have been one over.

The church in Grafton, or Hungry Grafton, as he called it, is said to be the one in which the poet married his Anne. The air here being so bracing in his day that he was invariably hungry.

We cannot really see what is beggarly about Broom in our meaning of the word. But being number seven, perhaps they were broke by then. Dodging Exhall could only mean they'd run out of everything but water. Well, well, sorry about that.

Well, still, what can you expect when you're standing in the garden of a 500 year old cottage that possesses a growing stone that scientists from all over the world come to visit?

Visitors, too, turn to Warwick and the nicest, a hospital in that town, endowed by Queen Elizabeth's favourite, the Earl of Leicester, as a home for ex-soldiers wounded in the service of their country, who wear liveries of blue cloth with a staff embroidered on the left sleeve. Since 1571, six ex-soldiers have always been cared for here, and they all wear the exact replica of the uniform of its original patron, the Earl of Leicester and Warwick Castle. Which, by the way, dates back to the times of the Saxons. But it was not until after the Norman Conquest that this stone fortress was built. Many a battle was fought here. The cries of war resounded where now only the screaming of the peacocks can be heard.

Grim foreboding. One of the entrances, cut in the natural rock, has a portcullis which is still lowered every night.

It is significant that the home of the Earl of Leicester should be featured in Shakespeare's plays, for it was the Leicester players he joined as an actor when he first left Stratford on the Avon. That river that winds quietly through the countryside, flowing past small villages.

Willacy, a friendly hamlet. Welford on Avon, dating back to pre-Norman times, secure in its memories and its air of peaceful beauty.

On flows the river to Barton on Avon, where all is contentment.

And so back to Stratford, where things are not quite so contented and a modern tragedy is being enacted. The inn named after Garrick, that actor who first encouraged the town to pay homage to her own great son, today caters for the tired and hungry travellers who would rest a while.

Alas! Sorry fate has overtaken us. And we may well say, 'tis indeed a bloody business', as Hamlet does every night at the Memorial Theatre.

Hamlet : "Nymph. In thy orisons be all my sins remembered".
Ophelia: "Good, my Lord. How does your honour for this many a day?"
Hamlet: "I humbly thank you. Well, well, well",
Ophelia: "My Lord, I have remembrances of yours that I have longed longed to redeliver. I pray you now receive them."
Hamlet: "No, not I. I never gave the aught."
Ophelia: "My honoured Lord, you know right well you did. And with them words of so sweet breath composed as made the things more rich, Their perfume lost, take these again. For to the noble mind, rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. Dear my Lord, dear Lord, "
Hamlet: "Are you fair?"
Ophelia: "My? What means your lordship?"
Hamlet: "I did love you once."
Ophelia: "Indeed, my Lord. You made me believe so."
Hamlet: "You should not have believed me. For virtue cannot inoculate our old stock. But we shall relish of it. I loved you not."
Ophelia: "I was the more deceived."
Hamlet: "Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent, honest. Yet I can accuse me of such things, that it were better that my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in. Imagination, to give them shape or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves all."
Ophelia: "Oh! Help him, you sweet heavens!"
Hamlet: "If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague as thy dowry. Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow. Thou shalt not escape calumny. Or if thou wilt need Mary, marry a fool. For wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them."
Ophelia: "O heavenly powers, restore him."
Hamlet: "I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. You jig, you amble, and you lisp and you nickname Gods creatures. And make your wantonness your ignorance. I'll have no more on't, it have made me mad. I'd say there shall be no more marriages. Those that are married already, all, save one, shall live. The rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery go, farewell."

Here in Shakespeare's own theatre, a different play of his is performed every evening. The greatest stars in the world come here. And the people come from far and wide to listen to the Bard of Avon's tragedy, comedy and drama.

It was John Shakespeare who first brought the players to Stratford. William Shakespeare, who still brings the players and the people to Stratford.

There has been much controversy about the architecture of the theatre. Half the cost of which was subscribed by great personalities in America. Some say it does not fit in with the 'old-worldness' of Stratford, whilst others aver that its modern luxury is a shrine well designed to perpetuate his works. However, it has one of the finest equipped stages and auditorium in the world. It has been said that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, and didn't Hitler once claim that our Will was a German citizen? But Stratford knows who wrote them!

And while they announced their festival, Southwark holds theirs.

For each year at Southwark Cathedral, in the heart of London, there is a service on Shakespeare Day. It was to Southwark he came from Stratford. It was in Southwark that many of his plays were written and acted. His brother Edward, also an actor, was buried here.

To Southwark, on his day come hundreds of people in pilgrimage; Unknown. Well known, they joined together all devotees of Shakespeare.

The service over, the crowd, amongst them famous actors and actresses of stage and screen, make their way towards the courtyard of the George Inn. Here, the Canon addresses them, tells them of Shakespeare's life, of his true character, his devotion to his wife, and great love of his children.

The sign of the George Inn sways gently in the breeze. That inn that hasn't changed much since the days when the famous plays were first presented to London audiences. It was from this very balcony that Elizabethan audiences first heard Juliet.

Romeo : "What light through yonder window breaks? See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. Oh, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek."
Juliet: "Oh, Romeo. Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet. Tis but thy name that is my enemy. What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection that he owns without that title. Oh Romeo, doff thy name. And for that name, that is no part of thee, take all myself."

Today, to this old tavern, come the festival players to enact to the waiting audiences, gems from the master's pen.

Here, too, they listen to Juliet, that character beloved of all actresses. Whether she be 17 or 70, there's no actress who doesn't desire to play Juliet.

Just as Hamlet, that gloomy man tortured by his own wild imaginings, is the goal of every actor, whether he be the most sinister of villains or the simplest of clowns.

And when the crowds have vanished until the next festival day, the inn is once more quiet and alone. Alone with its memories. Memories of our Mr. Shakespeare.

Here it was he enjoyed good talk with his friends, entertained them after the play and drank his pints of ale.

Shakespeare : "Little Jane. Oh, what a night, Jane. Jane, and you love me."
Shakespeare: "Oh, there you lie, my friends. Like ships on rocks, mere wrecks. We are such stuff as dreams are made on. And our little life is rounded with a sleep."
Wench: "You gave me such a fright."
Shakespeare: "Fright, my child. Why?"
Wench: "You look so still, like a dead man huddled in that chair."
Shakespeare: "Dead. Go to wench, I shall live for ever." 

[The End]

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