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Stage set for 400th anniversary celebration of Shakespeare's life and works

Published 19/04/2016

The day's festivities will conclude with a fireworks display and a line of light, leading to Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford upon Avon, where Shakespeare is buried
The day's festivities will conclude with a fireworks display and a line of light, leading to Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford upon Avon, where Shakespeare is buried

The stage is set for Shakespeare's birthplace to welcome "the world and his wife" for a special 400th anniversary celebration of his life and works.

The picturesque streets of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire are to play host to a colourful birthday parade as tourists and fans from across the globe descend on the town on April 23.

The legacy of William Shakespeare, who is buried in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church, will be brought to life by a host of actors, dancers and theatrical extras, including local schoolchildren and the public.

A centre-piece parade will be the focus of the day's events, beginning as a sombre walk of remembrance before ending on a more uplifting note assisted by the New Orleans jazz band.

Traditionally the morning parade is decorated with sprigs of rosemary "for remembrance", as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, and attended by the toll of a funerary bell.

Dignitaries will then lay a commemorative wreath to arguably the greatest playwright ever to wield a quill before a host of flags are unfurled in the centre of the town, signalling a change in mood.

The parade will then continue through the streets on the final leg of its journey, ending near his grave at the historic church.

Shakespeare, who penned almost 40 plays, over 150 sonnets, and coined well-known phrases still widely used to this day, died on April 23 - in 1616.

Stratford's mayor Tessa Bates said: "It's a birthday parade and the anniversary of his death parade, so it goes from the funeral, to a wake, to a birthday party.

"It ends on a really cheerful note."

She added: "We're expecting the world and his wife to be here."

Town clerk Sarah Summers, the Birthday Parade's lead organiser, said elements of audience participation were important to the day's festivities.

Ms Summers explained: "We want the crowds lining the route to join in the ceremonial, throwing sprigs of fresh rosemary underfoot as the procession passes by in sombre mood in a walk of remembrance.

"Later, as the party starts, we are looking for a photographic moment to savour with our specially commissioned Shakespeare masks. We need everyone to join in."

Playing a key role in this year's landmark anniversary is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), whose grand Stratford theatre on the banks of the River Avon continues to stage and exhibit the Bard's enormous legacy.

During the day, outdoor players will perform iconic extracts from the playwright's vast array of works.

Geraldine Collinge, director of events and exhibitions at the RSC, said this year's traditional parade will be special, with an enormous amount of planning and preparation poured in to making the day a success.

She said it would be a chance to remember the impact that the playwright, who was baptised in the town on April 26 1564, had on the English language.

Ms Collinge said: "He is so much part of what we do every day.

"I think in this country we forget so many of the words we use, so many of the expressions and things we talk about have come from Shakespeare, like 'all that glistens isn't gold' or 'neither a borrower or a lender be', so some of the things you just say all the time come from Shakespeare.

"He invented so many new words it was such a creative flourishing time when he was writing, but as well the themes are enduring themes, themes that we're still agonising over like life and death, beauty and appearance and reality, all the things that he talked about in his plays so well are still things that still concern us in our lives today.

"Which is pretty amazing for someone who died 400 years ago."

The day's festivities conclude with a fireworks display and a line of light, leading to Holy Trinity Church, where there will be a graveside vigil.

On Saturday evening, former Doctor Who actor David Tennant is leading an all-star line-up for a televised gala celebrating the Bard's life being performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Tennant, who earned critical acclaim in the RSC's Richard II and played Hamlet in 2009, will be joined for Shakespeare Live by Dame Judi Dench, Al Murray, Tim Minchin and Joseph Fiennes.

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