10 ways to celebrate William Shakespeare

by Katie Rowe

Category: History & heritage
March 30 2016

We pick out some of our favourite Shakespeare-themed events and experiences to mark 400 years since the passing of the world’s greatest playwright. Be on your best behaviour for a Tudor school lesson, peek inside the world-renowned RSC costume store for the first time and catch a play at a seaside circus or in a secret garden.

1. Step inside Shakespeareโ€™s Schoolroom in Stratford-upon-Avon

A close up of boys names etched into a wooden table at the King Edward VI School

If you think you work long hours, spare a thought for the Tudor schoolboy, who’d spend the day perched on a wooden bench from 6am until 6pm. Find out more about the arduous hours, along with many other fascinating anecdotes at the Shakespeare’s School Room & Guildhall, opening on 23 April. The 15th-century King Edward VI School is where the Bard’s imagination was first sparked, and as the town’s only theatre space at that time, it’s also the place where he first encountered the world of theatre. Sit in the very room he sat in as a pupil with his books balanced on his legs, take part in a live Tudor lesson with a ‘Master’ and see a film showing boys of the school experiencing typical Tudor school lessons.

2. Walk with Shakespeare along the River Thames in London

Journey through the life and works of Shakespeare with The Complete Walk, an extraordinary visual celebration taking place over the weekend of 23 and 24 April. This interactive installation will see seven specially-made short films played on-loop across 37 screens lining a two and a half mile route between Westminster and Tower Bridge. Filmed across the world and starring some of the world’s finest actors, each film will explore an aspect of one of Shakespeare’s plays and include scenes shot in the locations Shakespeare imagined when he wrote them, from Cleopatra in front of the Pyramids to Hamlet on the rocks of Elsinore. 

3. Go behind the scenes at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon

A silver armour costume on display at the RSC costume store

Peek inside the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) world-renowned costume store for the very first time at the newly-restored theatre, The Other Place, from 23 April. After being closed for nearly 10 years, the studio theatre will see the RSC’s 30,000-strong costume store fling its doors open to the public to coincide with ‘From Page to Stage’, a tour that gives you a taste of thespian life. Explore the brand new 200-seat flexible studio theatre and two new rehearsal spaces, and discover how costumes and props can influence performances while handling some notable costume pieces. 

4. See a secret garden performance in Nottingham

To mark the anniversary, the Lace Market Theatre will be hosting a Shakespeare Season, which includes performances of scenes from Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar on 21 April in the secret garden at Bromley House Library. Tickets cost just £7 and include a glass of wine during the interval.

5. Join a castle crawl in Northumberland

The towering turrets of Alnwick  Castle sit between a vast green lawn and clear blue skies

Pay a visit to Warkworth Castle, the ancient site that was the setting for several scenes in William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I and Part II. As you explore this majestic stronghold dating back to 1157, keep a look out for lions carved into the castle walls, this is the official emblem of the powerful Percy family who wielded kingly power over the north and reached their pinnacle under the first Earl of Northumberland and his son 'Harry Hotspur', a dominant character in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV'. Seven miles north you’ll find Alnwick Castle, another of the Percy family’s fortresses; they’ve been living here for the past 700 years. As well as being home to the iconic Henry Hotspur, the castle also features in the BBC TV series, The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, rumoured to air later this year.

6. Celebrate Shakespeareโ€™s birthday in Stratford-upon-Avon

Pull on your ruff for an extra-special Shakespearian knees-up to celebrate The Bard’s birthday and also commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death. Along with the annual parade on 23 April – which this year includes a New Orleans jazz procession – there is a  plethora of events taking place on the same day. See a dazzling acrobatic show by Mimbre, join David Tennant for The Shakespeare Show, broadcast live on BBC2 from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and end the evening with a fireworks display.

7. See the Bard in a new light in Stratford-upon-Avon

Vibrant floral borders of the Tudor Knot Garden, the site of Shakespeare's home

From summer 2016, you’ll be able to see the great playwright in a new light at the site of his family home for 19 years and the place where he wrote no less than 26 plays. Although the original building was destroyed in 1759 due to then owner, Reverend Francis Gastrell, being annoyed by visiting Shakespeare enthusiasts, world-leading artists, landscapers, gardeners, historians and artisanal craftsmen are working hard to transform New Place into a world-class heritage attraction. From famous writer to father, discover the untold stories of the world famous playwright as you explore a series of Tudor gardens, the largest surviving part of the estate, and visit a brand new exhibition centre to see rare and important artefacts.

8. Be swept away by The Tempest in Great Yarmouth

If you’re thinking that this seaside resort seems like an unlikely place for a Shakespeare performance, think again. The magical setting of the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome in Norfolk is Britain's oldest surviving circus building, built by the legendary Circus showman George Gilbert in 1903. It puts on an impressive programme of circus-inspired events every year and The Tempest gets the same treatment, with actors suspended from the ceiling above a flooded stage. Performances take place from 12 to 21 May

9. See England through the eyes of Shakespeare

Anne Hathaway's thatched cottage and beautiful mature gardens

Follow in the footsteps of the Bard, re-tracing his journey between his hometown, Stratford-upon- Avon, and the Globe Theatre in London on a four-night coach trip with Discover Shakespeare’s Way. Designed by former RSC actor, James Howard, the tour lets you see England through the eyes of Shakespeare, travelling through the timeless English countryside locations of the Cotswolds, Stratford and Oxfordshire and stopping off at hidden historic haunts along the way. The next tour takes place from 7 to 11 October and begins at the five-star Grange Hotel in St Paul’s, London.

10. Enjoy Shakespeare the authentic way at Oxford Castle

Shakespeare’s plays work best when performed outdoors, just like they were at London’s open air playhouses hundreds of years ago. What better place then, than the Tudor setting of Oxford Castle’s historic Castleyard, for an eight week-long festival showcasing some of his most popular plays. From 20 June to 13 August, see reimagined performances of Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream which feature live music, dance and song but remain faithful to Shakespeare's themes and language. 


Uncover more about Shakepeare on this special anniversary year...


Katie Rowe

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