William Shakespeare – A Cotswold Man?
Stratford-on-Avon is celebrated as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, one of the greatest of English playwrights. We all know that the authorship of the plays in question is much disputed but for the time being, at any rate, it is accepted that this son of a glover and of the scion of an affluent farming family wrote some thirty-four plays and over one hundred and fifty sonnets. Whether he can be called a 'Cotswold' man is a fairly meaningless question, unless you believe that Stratford itself is part of this region of stone and wool. Many do and Stratford is often referred to as its northern boundary. Stratford is certainly very close to the Cotswolds and in particular the lovely town of Chipping Campden, which, with its gorgeous gently-curving high street of biscuit-coloured stone, most definitely is a Cotswold town. But once you leave Campden heading northwards, it seems to me that the Cotswolds are ebbing away and by the time you have travelled beyond Mickleton, the countryside is different. Gone are the stone villages and dry-stone walls, to be replaced with pretty timbered cottages and fields divided by hedgerows. The earth is darker and richer and the light over the undulating landscape, without the high Cotswold hills, is more suited, say, to an oil painting than a watercolour. This is the countryside that Shakespeare would have known and grown up in before he set off to London.
But he certainly knew of the Cotswolds and he knew of events taking place there, because he mentions them in his plays. And Chipping Campden is so close and although not at the pinnacle of its wool-based prosperity when Shakespeare was alive, still widely known and surely influential in the area. The Cotswold Hills in general, too, would have been known across the region because they were for long thought of as wild and dangerous.
It would be nice to think that William Shakespeare was familiar with the Cotswolds – in The Merry Wives of Windsor he alludes to a character whose greyhound has been 'outrun on Cotsall’ (Cotswold),” and perhaps that the wrestling scene in As You Like It was inspired by the Cotswold Olimipiks – but, sadly, it does not seem likely that he can be described as a Cotswold man. But the good news is that Stratford is only thirty minutes from Campden; and anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps can follow the Shakespeare Way.