Stratford and the Bard

The Globe Theatre, (photo by Alisdair Macdonald)
The Globe Theatre

Stages and bookshops across the globe today celebrate Shakespeare's 448th birthday. It’s not the most obvious of ages to commemorate, but its celebration tells a tale of the influence the Warwickshire playwright has over international cultures. For many the name of Shakespeare will instantly conjure visions of the theatres of London, but it is Stratford-upon-Avon (not to be confused with Olympic destination Stratford) where Shakespeare’s tale truly resides.  

The moment you arrive in Stratford-upon-Avon you know you are in the "Birthplace of the Bard". This pretty little town is dedicated to the Shakespeare industry – from the Shakespeare Tour buses to the t-shirts proclaiming “Will Power”, and from Anne Hathaway’s cottage to the site of New Place, where the great man spent his later years. 

All the fuss is based on the plays, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the imposing modern theatre beside the Avon, as they are in theatres throughout the world. By some rare gift this 16th-century writer was able to encapsulate emotions, to universalise petty jealousies and major tragedies, in words that still ring fresh and new and with humour that seems to work even when translated into Japanese. Shakespeare is part of the national heritage, revered even by those who rarely, if ever, visit a theatre. Lines from his plays are part of the language; most actors express a wish to play Hamlet at some time in their career; and there are few classical directors who don’t itch to stage their own interpretation of the works.

Shakespeare in London

Outside Stratford-upon-Avon, the best place to see Shakespeare's work is in London, where both commercial theatres and subsidised venues like the National Theatre regularly stage star-led productions.

Every summer, Shakespeare’s Globe, a facsimile of the original Globe Theatre, mounts the plays in a 16th-century setting on London’s Bankside. This year, look out for the ground-breaking Globe to Globe festival, staging productions of all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in a different language over six weeks. It's part of the World Shakespeare Festival and the perfect cultural tie-in to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Find out more about Stratford-upon-Avon in our online guide...

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