STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, United Kingdom, April 20, (Agencies): William Shakespeare’s hometown is bracing for a surge in visitors from around the world this month as it marks 400 years since the death of the foremost playwright in the English language. A parade to Shakespeare’s grave and fireworks will round off a day of theatre, dancing, music and parades in the picture-postcard streets of Stratford-upon-Avon.
And some of Britain’s finest actors are returning to the town’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre to perform his most celebrated scenes, in a special show on the April 23 anniversary.
Oscar-winners Judi Dench and Helen Mirren lead a cast including Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Antony Sher, Joseph Fiennes and David Suchet for the “Shakespeare Live!” performance.
Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, will attend the show, broadcast live on British television and in European cinemas.
“It’s going to be a total jamboree, a real festival feeling,” said Geraldine Collinge, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s director of events and exhibitions.
“It is a logistical challenge as well as a great artistic one.”
Stratford, a town of 27,000 residents in central England, welcomes nearly five million people every year to visitors seeking out the places where the Bard was born, lived, wrote and died.
“You’re in the crucible of Shakespeare,” said Cyril Nri, who plays busy-body Polonius in the RSC’s current production of “Hamlet” in its 1,000-seat home theatre.
“To come right to the place where he was born is just perfect to perform at,” he told AFP in his dressing room, before going on stage .
“As an actor, it’s the zenith.”
The 54-year-old stage and television veteran said Shakespeare remained relevant because his works speak directly to everlasting human emotions.
“Shakespeare doesn’t worry about time; he’s eternal. It could be 400 years, it could be four years, it could be four hours,” Nri said.
“He’s never stopped being relevant over those 400 years.
“He’s discovered it all and dealt with every single situation.
“He’s the Don.”
Stratford’s streets are lined with black-and-white Tudor-era timber buildings, and filled with traces of the Warwickshire market town’s famous son.
Up to 5,000 people a day visit the family home on Henley Street where the poet grew up, walking across the original floorboards in the bedroom where it is assumed he was born in 1564.
Paul Edmondson, head of research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust charity which manages the site, said the depth of his works meant the world would continue to be captivated by plays like “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
“We’ll never end up finishing the sentence where Shakespeare’s concerned,” he told AFP.
“Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers who’s ever lived.
“The strongest emotions we feel as people, our fears and our doubts, are expressed by Shakespeare across the range of his characters.
In the family house’s fragrant herb garden, a small troupe of professional actors perform scenes from the Bard’s plays.
Dressed in doublet and hose, Louis Osborne delivers the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet”.
“To be at Shakespeare’s birthplace, speaking Shakespeare, it’s literally the dream,” the 25-year-old said.
Shakespeare’s remains are buried in Holy Trinity Church, a few steps away from the font in which he was Christened.
Some 250,000 people a year come to see his grave and the church has leaflets for visitors in 25 languages.
Tourists take pictures on their mobile phones, while regular parishioners drop in.
“There are lots of things going on, all associated with William Shakespeare, but at the same time we are a normal parish church with weddings and funerals,” said Reverend Doctor Steve Bate, the church’s associate vicar.
Shakespeare’s simple gravestone is inscribed with a curse against moving his bones.
By using ground-penetrating radar above the flat ledger stone, archaeologists revealed last month that he is buried around a metre down, and was likely interred in a shroud rather than a coffin.
Importantly, they found a disturbance at the head end of the grave which led archaeologists to wonder if an old story about Shakespeare’s skull being stolen may be true.
“We continue to respect his wish not to disturb the grave,” the cleric said, overlooking the slab.
“Exactly what the arrangements are beneath there we don’t know. That’s going to remain a mystery.”
On the 400th anniversary of his death, Shakespeare is more popular abroad than in Britain, according to a survey published on Tuesday which also found he makes a significant contribution to the UK’s prosperity and influence.
The British Council, which commissioned the YouGov survey of 18,000 people from 15 countries, said the results showed that internationally Shakespeare is widely known, liked and understood.
All the world’s a stage, in fact.
But he was more popular as a percentage of people – 65 percent – in non-English speaking countries such as China, Turkey and Mexico than in countries using the tongue he helped so much to develop, such as Britain, Australia and the United States.
The Bard was not dissed too much at home, however, being liked, understood and still regarded as relevant by 59 percent.
“Four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare’s work continues to play a vital role in educating and entertaining people around the world,” said the Council’s Rosemary Hilhorst in a statement.
The Council, which fosters cultural relations between Britain and other countries, said Shakespeare’s influence internationally helps generate a positive attitude towards the UK.
Over a third of people questioned said Shakespeare made them feel more positive about Britain in general, with the greatest number of respondents holding this view in Brazil (57 percent) and India (62 percent).
The British Council said his popularity had a direct influence on Britain’s economy, not just in terms of attracting visitors to Shakespeare’s theatres but also contributing to the country’s standing in the world which had the knock-on effect of attracting tourists.
William Shakespeare’s work, which includes 38 plays and 154 sonnets has been translated into over 80 languages and is performed throughout the world. The precise date of his death is not known but his funeral was held on April 25, 1616.
As theatre fans prepare to mark the anniversary, auction house Christie’s on Tuesday presented to media the first four folios of Shakespeare’s collected works to be auctioned next month.
The sale, expected to fetch more than 1.3 million pounds ($1.87 million), is led by an unrecorded copy of the first collected edition of his plays, Christie’s said.
Meanwhile, a rare compilation of Shakespeare’s complete works was shown off before sale by Christie’s auction house on Tuesday in the week that Britain celebrates the 400th anniversary of the legendary playwright’s death.
The “First Folio” was published in 1623 — just seven years after Shakespeare’s death — preserving “Macbeth” and 17 other works that were never published in the Bard’s lifetime and would otherwise have been lost.
Around 750 “First Folios” were published and only around a third of them have been preserved.
Academics earlier this month hailed the discovery of one edition on the Scottish island of Bute.
Christie’s has put the estimated price tag of its compilation at at least £800,000 (1.0 million euros, $1.2 million).
The auction house will also be selling three other editions of the full works published in 1632, 1664 and 1685.
“It’s very unusual” for the collected works of an author to be published so soon after their death, said Margaret Ford, the international head of books and manuscripts department at Christie’s.
“It is deeply moving to handle the first printed record of his collected plays and to be reminded of their tremendous impact.”
The work will go on display in New York and London ahead of the sale in the British capital on May 25.
The anthology contains 36 works including 18 that were published for the first time in the book and would probably have disappeared including “Macbeth”, “The Tempest”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “All’s Well that Ends Well” and “A Winter’s Tale”.