Saturday, April 23, was the 400th anniversary of the death of the bard of England, William Shakespeare. A country that tends to work commemorations in a big way, the day did not disappoint, according to media outlets based in Shakespeare’s homeland.
BBC reports that “Shakespeare Live” a gala performance in Stratford-upon-Avon, the playwright’s birthplace, was the culmination of the day’s events from all around the land. World-renowned actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Helen Mirren, Benjamin Cumberbatch, and others performed sketches based on Shakespeare’s works. The performances were broadcast live via BBC Two.
Prince Charles even got into the act, so to speak, when he made a surprise performance of the famous “to be or not to be” lines from “Hamlet” in a sketch. He attended the gala performance with his wife the Duchess of Cornwall.
Prior to the evening’s gala, the royals visited Shakespeare’s home and toured the gardens and an exhibition. As part of the day’s events, Prince Charles laid a wreath in tribute at Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church.
Sky News reported that 10,000 people paraded through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon in commemoration on Saturday. An American twist to the parade was a 12-piece New Orleans-style jazz band that marched and performed what they said was a “New Orleans jazz funeral” for the poet.
Meanwhile, in London, the American president was on hand to show support from across the pond for England’s monumental contribution to world literature. President Barack Obama visited the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, watching a few scenes of “Hamlet” also performed, including lines from the famous soliloquy.
Throughout the day, Shakespeare’s Globe also screened short films representing all of the playwright’s 37 plays on giant screens placed along the Thames from Tower Bridge to Westminster. A feature of the short films was that actors gave their lines from the locations where the plays were set, such as from Cleopatra in Egypt, Hamlet from Elsinore, Julius Caesar from the Roman Forum, etc.
Shakespeare’s exact birthday remains a mystery (there are only baptismal records indicating that the rite took place on April 26, 1564), and his death date is also somewhat murky (church records again indicate he was interred at Holy Trinity Church on April 25, 1616). While scholars continue to work to pinpoint exact dates, convention has taken to say that the poet was born and died on the same month and date years apart. Writing nearly 40 extant plays and more than 150 sonnets still read around the world today, there appears to be agreement in the scholarship that Shakespeare was 52 years old when he died.