Shakespeare’s career is often defined through the spatial binary of London versus Stratford–London was the fast-paced landscape of his career while Stratford was the idyllic countryside where he enjoyed his boyhood and retirement. Literary pilgrims flock to Stratford in the thousands every year, attempting to feel closer not only to Shakespeare himself but also to gain greater–or perhaps just a different–understanding of his work. The meanings transferred through these texts and accrued via continual performances contribute to cultural and literary heritage.  The entire town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s childhood home, has been reconstructed throughout history as a monument to the playwright despite the fact none of the works Shakespeare is famous for were written, published, or performed in the town during his lifetime. This construction of Stratford-upon-Avon as a living monument to Shakespeare as we know it today did not begin until 1769 with David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee. The elite of England travelled to attend parties, pageants, and performances that framed the unveiling of a statue honoring the Bard and positioning him as England’s national poet. This multi-day celebration is often credited with sparking the rise of bardolatry and the institution of the cult of  Shakespeare, and it cemented Stratford-upon-Avon as a must visit location for those wanting to pay tribute to the playwright. Although this event was integral in cementing Shakespeare as a cultural icon, not a single one of the events was a performance of the plays. Focus was instead placed on producing the town as one where the characters could be imagined walking the streets and promoting the idea that Shakespeare’s presence could be felt anywhere. This ignited a tradition of tourists performing Shakespeare worship through visiting Stratford; the plays can be located in Shakespeare’s hometown because their audiences desperately wish to find them there.

The desire to connect Shakespeare’s works more directly to his home has remained consistent. With the founding of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) ten years after the Jubilee, the theatre has brought the plays to Stratford along with a stream of new audiences. The first production in the theatre was an As You Like It set in Warwickshire’s Forest of Arden that incorporated references to hunting in the nearby Charlecote, which is a direct reference to an anecdote from Shakespeare’s youth.[1] This is just one example of the recurring appearance of Stratford and the surrounding area making an appearance in performances at the RST—the same local imagery was invoked as recently as the 2014/15 paired productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won.[2]  The theatre has continually brought tourist groups to the town, who often spend the day touring the town’s many heritage sites before attending a performance at the theatre. Often, the references of whatever play is being performed has been incorporated into the narrative at these locations. The audience brings this local context into the theatre, and following the performance the audience then exits back into the town as tourists. They take their impressions of the play with them, and they use their new understandings of Shakespeare’s work to create meaning in their experience with Stratford and in turn look for the ways the town may have impacted the play. Memories of play and place become inextricably intertwined and consistently shape and reshape the town as a living monument to Shakespeare and his works.

In her book Building Histories: The Archival and Affective Lives of Five Monuments in Modern Delhi, Mrinalini Rajagopalan describes how monuments are not fixed in time and space, but rather continually changing via their interactions with the people who visit them throughout history. She writes “…the destabilization of the archival histories of the monument can only be understood by an examination of the affective meanings that the monument accrues at various points in its life.”[3] Monuments alone do not create meaning--it is the reactions of those who interact with it that contextualize it and imbue it with cultural importance and accrues additional meanings as years pass. By performing this literary pilgrimage, visitors to Stratford contribute the continued production of space in the town and shifting meanings in this place’s cultural capital. As time elapses and different bodies momentarily inhabit Stratford-upon-Avon, this synthesis of fixed and living monument gathers new affective meanings that constantly change the way Shakespeare’s memory survives through his hometown.

Over the years, the entire town has been memorialized as a kind of shrine to Shakespeare even though none of the works Shakespeare is famous for were written, published, or performed in the town during his lifetime. Stratford has been transformed into a space in which visitors are oriented by their familiarity with the plays. It is shaped by those who visit it to feel closer to Shakespeare, whether for scholarly or sentimental reasons. It is this that I hope to capture in the digital chapter of my dissertation, the notion that there are “deeply subjective and affective histories embedded within the institutionalized histories of monuments.”[4] This is made evident repeatedly in the history plays, as Shakespeare names famous landmarks and battle fields—such as with the Agincourt references in Henry V or via the scene in Richard III where characters discuss the cultural history of the Tower of London. Briefly, this even applies to the statue of Hermione in the Winter’s Tale since she serves as a symbol of the cultural history in Sicily after her and Perdita’s presumed deaths. This does not even begin to address the “subjective and affective histories” that are intertwined with elements of intangible cultural heritage—as invoked via the Robin Hood myth in As You Like It. Just as Shakespeare relied on these subjective and affective histories as represented in his plays, the place of his birth and death has come to rely on the subjective and affective histories of his legacy. 

The presentation of Shakespeare’s legacy has evolved over the centuries, and narratives regarding the greatness of the playwright have been curated in very specific and intentional ways to cement him as an English cultural icon. Although Shakespeare wrote all his plays in London, his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon has grown to become more closely associated with the playwright through these constructed histories. However, this gravitation toward the playwright’s childhood home and gravesite did not become popular until the 19th century. By analyzing guidebooks from this period, I hope to demonstrate how public understanding of the various monuments in Stratford has evolved and analyze how the information provided in these guidebooks has been continually reinvented over time. Ultimately, I aim to demonstrate the subjective nature of Stratford’s relationship with Shakespeare and explore how narratives about that town that are presented to visitors as completely objective have attempted to influence visitors’ perspectives in this space.


[1] Julia Thomas, Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 165.

[2] Judi Dench, “A Local Habitation and a Name” from Love’s Labour’s Lost program (Stratford-upon-Avon: Royal Shakespeare Company, 2014), 3.

[3] Mrinalini Rajagopalan, Building Histories: The Archival and Affective Lives of Five Monuments in Modern Delhi, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 5.

[4]Mrinalini Rajagopalan, Building Histories: The Archival and Affective Lives of Five Monuments in Modern Delhi, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 16.