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All the world’s a stage for Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary

Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom | AFP |

Thousands of people from around the world descended upon William Shakespeare’s hometown Saturday for a day of theatre, dancing and fireworks marking the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

Some 10,000 people turned out in Stratford-upon-Avon, central England, to see a parade revved up by a New Orleans jazz band, with fans of the English language’s foremost playwright donning Shakespeare masks as they joined in the party.

And in London, US President Barack Obama visited the modern replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to watch scenes from “Hamlet” performed on the open-air stage.

Some of Britain’s finest actors were treading the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, less than a kilometre from the Bard’s grave.

Wearing masks of the "Bard of Avon", members of the public prepare for the parade marking 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 2016/ AFP
Wearing masks of the “Bard of Avon”, members of the public prepare for the parade marking 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 2016/ AFP

Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian McKellen were among the star names due to celebrate the anniversary with performances from Shakespeare’s best known works.

The “Shakespeare Live!” show is being broadcast live in Britain and to cinemas around Europe.

“I think I’ve been in 26 of his plays,” Oscar-winner Dench told BBC television.

“He is known in our family as the man who pays the rent,” she added.

“He’s a real passion in my life… The language of all the plays, I could drown in it.”

 ‘The heart of human experience’

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, was in the royal box for Saturday’s show.

Earlier he laid a wreath at Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church after touring the site of a new garden on what was the location of the playwright’s home.

“It certainly reminds you of your mortality,” he said, reading the curse inscribed on the tomb that warns against moving Shakespeare’s bones.

Stratford, where the playwright was born and died, kicked off a day of merriment with a parade of performers wearing pantaloons, ruffs and codpieces.

A funeral bier of flowers was pulled through the picture-postcard streets.

Meanwhile Chinese actors performed in the garden of Shakespeare’s family home, where it is assumed he was born.

At The Globe in London, Obama was treated to scenes including the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet” by a cast that has spent two years touring the play round the world.

The president watched intently before clapping loudly and joining the cast onstage.

“Let me shake hands with everyone. That was wonderful. I don’t want it to stop,” Obama told them.

Dominic Dromgoole, outgoing artistic director of the Globe, put Shakespeare’s timeless appeal down to “fantastic stories that sit at the heart of human experience in all forms”.

“He’s a great wit, a great entertainer and his plays are generous — they make you feel more and understand more,” he told AFP.

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Worldwide celebrations

Outside the theatre, 37 short films featuring stars like Dominic West and Gemma Arterton — one for each of Shakespeare’s plays — were shown on giant screens snaking along the River Thames.

From Warsaw, to Dubai and Las Vegas, Shakespeare’s plays were to play to packed houses to mark the occasion, highlighting the international appeal of the English language’s leading playwright.

Costumed mourners rallied in Gdansk in Poland to mark the anniversary, dressed in black with their faces painted white. The seaport city’s Shakespeare theatre was inaugurated by the Globe’s touring cast.

Meanwhile people dressed in old uniforms marched in front of Kronborg Castle in Helsingor, Denmark, where “Hamlet” was set.

“Everyone knows about ‘Romeo and Juliet’, about ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King Lear’,” Dromgoole said.

“Those iconic shapes speak to everyone because they are embedded in human culture.

“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of how much Shakespeare can do in the world.”

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