17th to 23rd March 2014 will see the first Shakespeare Week taking place across the UK and a few places around the world in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the bard’s birth. Celebrations are held each year but being the 450th anniversary big things are happening. This is certainly a big deal in Britain, I haven’t so far seen anything for Australia but that isn’t to say there aren’t any celebrations, just perhaps not as grand. Toby’s gotten into the spirit here so that’s how we’re celebrating.
Despite the festivities, this is not the week Shakespeare was born though. William Shakespeare was born on 23rd April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, and actually died in 1616 on this same date. This was one of my favourite facts as a child, that Shakespeare died on his birthday. I did think it was a bit spooky, but it was a nice circular way to go, out the same day you came in; though it would be slightly depressing to die on your birthday. There is actually no exact date recorded of his birthday, though based on christening records historians have worked out when he would have most likely been born, giving us the 23rd April. He is buried in Stratford-Upon-Avon and you are still able to see his grave at the Holy Trinity Church.
According to Stratford Vision’s website, the aim of Shakespeare Week is to “bring Shakespeare’s stories, language, historical backdrop and creative influence vividly to life for more than 3 million children in the UK and ensure that his cultural legacy is a central part of the primary school learning experience”. While there is a school and children focus for Shakespeare Week, there are other things for everyone, especially in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Being the centre of all things Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon have a multitude of festivities to enjoy including parades and other activities. This isn’t the first celebration either, there have been birthday celebrations for hundreds of years, dating all the way back to 1824 for the bard, though with the 450th anniversary it is possibly going to be bigger and better than ever. I think it is wonderful that people are celebrating so much, even after 450 years there is still a place for Shakespeare in the world.
There are a lot of interesting facts about Shakespeare, he invented so many words and phrases we still use today in the English language, he was loved by Queen Elizabeth I (which influenced the script and events depicted in his play Richard III), and he spelt his name at least six different ways. That is another fun fact, in the Tudor era there was no formalised way of spelling so anything went really. This could have advantages, but you would know there would be a time when you spell something a bit too much on pronunciation alone there is going to be some long and strange looking words you have to decipher. Though really, I would have thought being his own name he may have found one way he liked and stuck with it. Makes you wonder whether we’d have “Shakespeare” looking differently if he did.
There are so many other wonderful things to learn about Shakespeare too, and you can’t ignore just how influential to language and to theatre he was. I really wish I could be in Stratford-Upon-Avon this week to see these events because I think it would be amazing. When I was in the UK last year I got to go there and it was pretty amazing. When I was in London I also went to the Globe Theatre and for those who haven’t been, let me tell you it was amazing! This was Globe No. 3 mind you. The first Globe was built but then because it was too expensive in that location, Shakespeare moved to the other side of the river. Then this rebuild actually got burned down during a performance. The new and current version was built by Sam Wanamaker, American actor and director, and it stands only a few hundred metres from its original location. Based on the original design and layout and historically accurate as possible, the new Globe is a wonder. There are tours given and a museum/display section, but the best part is that it still puts on plays. And with everything historically right you can experience what it was like to see a play as Shakespeare wanted. When I was there I sat in on a rehearsal for Henry VI and it was amazing, I only wish I had been able to see something performed there properly, but alas it wasn’t to be.
I could talk about all things Shakespeare for days if given the chance but I shan’t. I will just insist that you check out some sites about his life, his works, and about the Globe itself. As for the celebrations, the few links I’ve given show you the grand fan fair in Stratford-Upon-Avon with some links to other places, I can’t say I know of anything happening in Australia, I haven’t seen anything from the Australian Shakespeare Company, but that isn’t stopping you from having your own celebrations. Also, there are bound to be events throughout the year to celebrate this 450th anniversary, so look out for them as well. I believe the Stratford Vision site mentioned that the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will run other events and exhibitions through 2014 to celebrate the legacy. Yet another reason I wish I was in Britain, they get all the fun.
For now I must enjoy from a distance. I’ve put some links below for all things Shakespeare Week, no doubt I have missed some but I found what I could to start you off. And if you want some fun Shakespeare things, I’ve added some QI clips as well as some skits and a song from the show Horrible Histories which are simply divine, plus I’ve added in Shakespeare’s Birthday Bonanza that I did last year for his birthday where I have a bit more information and look briefly at a few of my favourite plays. Who knows, with all this excitement and information at your disposal, you may learn something new and wonderful about the bard and have an ‘oohhh, didn’t know that’ moment, they’re always fun.
Have a wonderful Shakespeare Week wherever you are. If you’re in Britain I hope you enjoy it and get to go to some celebrations, if not, maybe grab a copy of a play or sonnet and appreciate some of the great works Shakespeare has contributed to the world in your own way.