FEATURE: Top Five Worst Holiday Destinations According to Shakespeare

It's that time of year again as theatre-types and general lovers of literature celebrate the birth of the Bard, William Shakespeare, this year reaching the ripe old age of 449. Last year Assorted Buffery took part in the Happy Birthday Shakespeare blogging project and we are delighted to be doing it again this year for www.happybirthdayshakespeare.comThe project aims to share what Shakespeare means to various people across the world and as you've probably noticed, we're rather large fans of the man from Stratford. Last year, we decided to celebrate the Unsung Heroes of the Shakespearian canon and we're approaching the proceedings from another odd angle this time around.

Famously, Shakespeare used a wide variety of locations in his plays to offer his audiences a little bit of escapism. From the African continent to muddy East Cheep, there are a lot of places that can call themselves Shakespearian locations. Now the 23rd April was an absolutely gorgeous day in Stratford-Upon-Avon (I happen to be lucky enough to work there) and we are fast approaching the time of year in which people decide to go gallivanting off to exotic locations to enjoy a nice, relaxing holiday. So if you decided to take a nice Shakespearian themed vacation, there are a whole host of places you should avoid because 'relaxing' would not exactly be the term used to describe them. Because we care for our readers' well-being, and because the thought of writing a Bard-themed holiday guide was just too much fun, we now present to you a tour of the Top Five Worst Holiday Destinations According to Shakespeare. 

Disclaimer - we're positive that in reality, these places are really quite lovely - we've actually been to some of them - we're just looking at the Shakespearian versions.

England - 'This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle' (Richard II - A2.S1)

As seen in: The History Plays, King Lear

It's fair to say that according to Shakespeare, this green and 'sceptred isle' is not the best place to go a'roving at pretty much any period in history from your early mediaeval kings right up until the Tudors. If the country isn't in the middle of a civil war, it's in the grip of a tyrannical King going bonkers because one of his daughters answered a tough question perfectly logically. It's torn apart in Richard II, sort-of rebuilt again briefly in the Henry IVs before the Percys and Glendower decide to muck it all up. Henry V makes a decent stab of putting it back together again by buggering off to France and much later on Richard III seizes power and kills a bunch of people. If you're in the Royal Court and on the wrong side, it won't be too long before you find yourself locked up or missing your head. If you're in the peasantry and capable of wielding a pike, it's a good chance you'll find yourself up to your knees in mud whilst people poetically die around you. Put simply, it's probably best not to stick around. 

So the solution is to head up north to Scotland then is it? 

Scotland - 'Now o'er the one half world/Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse' (Macbeth A2.S1)

As seen in: Macbeth

Probably not actually. The above quote may not refer directly to the Scotland of Macbeth, more the general landscape itself, but there's no denying that it pretty much sums up the location of the play that must not be named. Whilst it may seem like an ideal idyll away from the tumult of England, it's not something that lasts. Witches lurk around dark and foreboding corners waiting to pounce on the nearest ambitious general and promise him the throne and it goes on to be ruled by a man with a delicate grip on the throne whose wife may be a little more than completely and utterly mental. Then of course, there's all of the ghosts wandering around the place, prophecies coming true left, right and centre and the small matter that trees develop a habit of moving about. Granted, this does tend to be if you're holed up in the Royal residence, but given that a lot of violence also takes place on the road (poor Banquo), it's probably not best to stay put.

Therefore, the solution must be in foreign climes.

Athens - 'May all to Athens back again repair / And think no more of this night's accidents' (A Midsummer Night's Dream A4.S1)

As seen in: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Timon of Athens

One of Shakespeare's many inventions, amongst his many contributions to the English language, was the discovery of woods outside Athens which, as far as I'm aware, don't actually exist (Athenians, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). Athens itself is pretty bad; if you want to marry someone who your father doesn't like, you might end up as a nun, or worse, dead. If you love someone who doesn't love you back, you'll end up outside of the city and later on wrestling against your former best friend who everyone seems to have inexplicably fallen in love with. Timon hated Athens that much, he actually preferred to live on his own in the wild. Then of course once you make it into the woods, you may find yourself at the behest of the fairy-folk who aren't exactly kind to city dwellers. They have a tendency to give you the head of a donkey and make you sleep with a fairy queen. Of course you may like that sort of thing...

Let's move swiftly on eh?

Bohemia - 'Our ship hath touch'd upon/The deserts of Bohemia?' (The Winter's Tale A3.S3)

As seen in: The Winter's Tale

For the majority of the play, Bohemia is largely a nice friendly place, full of shepherds, bawdy lasses and the odd comedy peddler. Indeed, if one of the most recent productions is anything to go by, it's a world where endless morris dances take place and people in disguise get up to all sorts of hijinks. So in that case, you may be wondering what it is doing on this list. You see, the key to unlocking Bohemia's rich treasure of sheep and jingling anklets is to actually survive that long to see it because the country is going to throw all sorts of things in your way to try and stop you getting there. Much like Shakespeare's fictional Athenian woods, Bohemia in this play is actually on the sea, so finding the real landlocked region whilst on a boat is your first task. Then there is a massive storm that kills your entire crew and smashes up on the rocks on a shore that doesn't technically exist. If you've managed to survive all that then there is the small issue of a great big bloody bear ready to chase you offstage and then eat you.

Let us not stop there. It is a silly place.

Anywhere in the Roman Empire - 'Shall Rome stand under one man's awe?' (Julius Caesar A2.S1)

As seen in: Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus

A lot of bad stuff goes on in the Roman Empire according to Shakespeare; there's maiming  mutinies, betrayals, wars, sieges and the odd death by snake. Much like the England of the History Plays, the Roman Empire of the tragedies just isn't all that fun for any member of the strictly hierarchical society. A celebrated general who can't talk to the people will find himself exiled, any member of the proletariat is probably starving, a woman in the knowledge of a vicious murder will be raped and mutilated, a leader who just wants to show Rome a good time (sort of) will be assassinated by his closest friend and if you happen to be a queen across the sea in love with a Roman general? Yeah, you're probably not going to survive all that long either.

Well that's exhausted most of Shakespeare's known world... How about instead we all take one of those staycations people are talking about these days? Let's just lock the doors, ignore any calls to arms and just play a board game. It's probably for the best.

- Becky

You can read our previous Happy Birthday Shakespeare post here and find out more about the project here.

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