Today, 23 April 2014, marks the landmark birthday of the most famous playwright and poet in the world – William Shakespeare is being honoured throughout this year with celebrations of his 450th birthday.
Celebrations of England’s legendary poet and playwright began back in January, rather fittingly at the world-famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. Constructed in 1599 with William Shakespeare himself a shareholder, the first purpose-built playhouse in the capital city was dealt a devastating blow following an explosive (literally) performance of Henry VIII in 1613. The new Globe reopened just meters from the previous incarnation and January 2014 saw the opening of the brand new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse building, which throughout 2014 will host candlelit plays, lavish operas and lively concerts at the brand new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
23 April 2014 is celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday, although his actual date of birth is hazy. National Shakespeare Week was held earlier this year and central to the celebrations will be the ground breaking performance of Hamlet, which the Globe will take on a formidable two year tour of the world tour.
Many of Shakespeare’s works continue to entertain and educate, both on TV, in schools and across popular literature. And if your knowledge of the great man’s works, inspirations and destinations are something of a mystery, allow us to point you in the right direction.
The number one must visit Shakespearean site is undoubtedly the playwright’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, the heart of England. As well as events and festivals throughout the year, this weekend (26 and 27 April 2014) the town honours Shakespeare’s legacy with a weekend packed full of spectacular events, showing the poet’s heritage and works and includes a very special performance from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Born here in 1564, the birth house today houses a museum complete with 16th century furnishings and a traditional herb garden.
Familiarise yourself with Shakespeare’s Italy which inspired his most famous plays. Start in Verona and admire the balcony of the Casa de Giulietta – the setting of the teen-romance tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Wander the quaint courtyard of the 13th century house as quotes from the play ring in your ears. Head on to Venice whose Rialto Bridge provided the inspiration for The Merchant of Venice. And finally, buzzing Rome provides the setting for two plays; The Tragedy of Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, in which Shakespeare penned the tragedy of former Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus.
My own school curriculum featured the incredibly dark and powerful Macbeth, which we also turned into a school play (although rather irritatingly I don’t remember who I played). Macbeth focusses on a power mad 11th-century Scottish couple; Lord and Lady Macbeth (makes me think of House of Cards). And last year the Macbeth Trail was launched, enabling the curious to drive the intriguing route, which is packed with locations from the tragedy. Pass by Glamis Castle, the village of Lumphanan and Cairn O’Mount. Incidentally Macbeth has such a reputation that many believe the play is cursed and will refer to it simply as ‘that Scottish play’, lest they summon the curse.
Penned in 1603, The Tragedy of Othello focusses on the invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish. And a tower on the holiday isle is named after one of Shakespeare most famous plays – Othello Tower is a must-visit.
The heady city of Athens provides the backdrop to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The tale of love and passion actually takes place in an unnamed ‘wood outside Athens’ (take your pick), and if you close your eyes you can imagine Titania and Oberon skipping across the landscape. Finish at the mighty Acropolis which may well have inspired the fearless soldiers in the play Troilus and Cressida, which is riddled with infidelities and which feels as relevant today as it did when written in 1602.
Image credit; 1; wikipedia