If William Shakespeare’s right that “all the world’s a stage,” then his role was certainly one of the most influential of all time. From eighth graders studying Romeo & Juliet to catch phrases he coined still used today like it’s “Greek to me,” “I’ll not budge an inch” and “the short and the long of it,” Shakespeare did a lot more than leave behind a set of plays.
On April 23, the writer of wit would have been 450 years old, and Shakespeare fans the world over are celebrating in a variety of ways from giant birthday cakes to special exhibits to performances around the globe. Here are the highlights of the festivities in the U.S. and beyond, paying tribute to the Bard’s birth.
1. Honoring a Hometown Hero
Of course, you would expect Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, to do it up right in honoring the day of his birth. To start, they’ll be creating a giant model cake that will require the power of a horse-drawn carriage to pull it along during an annual birthday procession. Led by actors, diplomats and local dignitaries, the parade to the playwright’s grave at Holy Trinity Church has taken place for 150 years.
This year’s birthday celebrations will be held the weekend after the Bard's birthday on April 26 and 27. Afterward, the tens of thousands in attendance can delve into a “real” birthday cake and enjoy street entertainers, music, sonnet readings, theatre workshops, tours of his houses and even try to spot some famous actors in town for the event.
2. Going Global
Also synonymous with Shakespeare is the world famous Globe theatre, where he and other actors performed many of his plays. Shakespeare’s Globe hosts a free birthday party with modern day party activities like magic, bouncy castles and balloon animals. A little more Shakespeare-style will be musical Roman statues on the Globe stage, a game of Pin the Ruff on the Bard, and a performance of Shakespeare-related rhapsodies, poetry and drama, by The School of Night theatre company.
On April 23, Shakespeare’s Globe is also embarking on a world tour of Hamlet that will go to every country in the world, stopping in Washington, D.C. in July. “In 1608, only five years after it was written, ‘Hamlet’ was performed on a boat – the Red Dragon – off the coast of Yemen,” says Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. “Just 10 years later it was being toured extensively all over Northern Europe. The spirit of touring, and of communicating stories to fresh ears, was always central to Shakespeare’s work.”
3. Brotherly Love for the Bard
Closer to home here in the U.S., several cities are honoring the famous poet. Philadelphia is hosting a yearlong celebration of all things Shakespeare themed “Year of the Bard: Shakespeare at 450.” Surprisingly, the City of Brotherly Love has a number of connections to the poet, including housing his first, second, third and fourth folio, a park named in his honor and home to the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater, the only theater in the U.S. focusing on Shakespeare year round.
In celebrating this monumental occasion, certainly you should be able to take in a Shakespeare performance, and the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater allows you to do just that in their contemporary rendition of the popular “Rome and Juliet” set 10 years in the future. The play will run April 4-May 18.
Other fun events include a big birthday bash April 23 at Shakespeare Park at the Free Library of Philadelphia with jugglers, performances, a chance to walk a tightrope, Elizabethan crafts and music. The local Yards Brewing Company will also pour “Shakesbeer” during Philly Beer Week May 30-June 8.
4. Shakespeare on Display
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is currently hosting an exhibit of some of their favorite items from their vast collections that illustrate how various cultures have encountered the Bard. At the free “Shakespeare’s The Thing,” exhibit, open through June 15, take a peek at a famous forgery, early editions of the plays, Salvador Dali set designs, a Sanskrit translation of “Hamlet” and more.
The library is also releasing all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays in free, mobile-friendly versions as their “birthday gift to the world” along with a series of Shakespeare Unlimited audio podcasts that discuss the varied connections between Shakespeare, his works and the world.
5. From Coast to Coast
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey , which is longest-running Shakespeare theater on the East Coast, will be performing three of his works – The Tempest, Henry VIII and Much Ado About Nothing – on their main stage during 2014. Their director of education will also be speaking throughout the area about the “method and madness” of producing Shakespeare’s plays in the 21st century to help inspire a love of the author in today’s generation.
The Shakespeare Society of America, a nonprofit in California that aims to educate through the works of Shakespeare, will host also host an April 23 celebration at their New Shakespeare Sanctuary in Moss Landing with cake, information about plants and flowers mentioned in his plays, a silent auction and more.
Once the year of the Bard winds down, start getting ready to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, also on April 23, in 2016. It seems the master of irony pulled off dying on his birthday in a real-life ironic twist.
Lyn Mettler is a freelance travel writer based in Indianapolis, Ind.