Shakespeare 400 Year Celebration

Theatre patrons enjoying performance at the Globe.
Theatre patrons enjoying performance at the Globe. Getty Images

23 April 2016 marked the the Shakespeare 400 Year celebration of the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

A few days after Queen Elizabeth II turned 90, and thousands flocked to Stratford Upon Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown, to commemorate his death and celebrate his life.

Shakespeare was 52 when he died but produced 37 plays and 154 sonnets in his lifetime, some written for Queen Elizabeth I. His plays are concerned with the familiar human conditions of love, death, hatred, betrayal, friendship and loyalty and still resonate with people all around the world.

RSC: 400 Year Celebration

An eclectic and compelling performance was put on at the RSC in Stratford which featured various sketches performed by famous faces like Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbach, John Lithgow and Dame Judy Dench. This was a live television broadcast as well as a performance attended by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles. Fireworks were set off at the end of the show and were enjoyed by the people of Shakespeare’s hometown.

Shakespeare Birthday Celebration: 400 Years

On the Saturday morning, Stratford upon Avon had a procession through the town as they do every year. This includes local dignitaries from the Council, the Church, The Shakespeare Institute, The RSC, local scouting groups and schools including students from Shakespeare’s own school King Edward VI’s Grammar School.

Various events were held at the RSC and around the town including stage fighting lessons, stage make up demonstrations and performances of all varieties.

People flocked to pay their respects in Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried.

London Birthday Celebration: 400 Years

In London at The Globe Theatre, built in Shakespearean style, on the spot where Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre stood, 37 screens showed 10 minute performances from all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays and the public could go and watch them free of charge.

President Barack Obama visited the Globe in London and was given a tour of the theatre and treated to a 10 minute scene from Hamlet. It was performed by a theatre company who had taken the play to over 197 countries over the last two years including performing in war zones and migrant camps. It is reported that Obama said; “That was wonderful...I don’t want it to stop”

UK television channels have dedicated programming to their most famous son.

The British Royal Ballet performed a live streamed event featuring operas and ballet adaptions of the Bard’s work.

International Celebrations: 400 Years

The Folger Shakespeare library in Washington DC hosted a live event where actors, community leaders and artists shared their connections with Shakespeare’s works through performances and personal accounts. Short playlets were performed at the British Council in Delhi and in Jordan students studied and performed his works. Celebratory events also took place in Chicago.

In Auckland New Zealand a pop up  replica of The Second Globe Theatre (The first burnt down in a fire) was built in a car park  to be dismantled after a short season of Shakespeare’s plays were performed.

It is unlikely that Shakespeare would have envisioned his work being studied by students in schools 400 years after his death.

Most young people would have encountered his work in the English syllabus at least once a year, his narratives and his language inform our own creative endeavors and many references to his work can be found in modern music, dance, theater and film.

However, Shakespeare was a man of his time and wrote about the political, social and economic issues of his day. Fortunately his characters were complex enough to remain relevant and recognizable and perhaps that is why we have embraced him, his legacy and his work to celebrate his life and work so ardently 400 years on. His work transcends the years, different languages and cultures.

“A light heart lives long”