All the world's a stage: How to follow in the footsteps of Shakespeare

This weekend marks 400 years since the Bard's death, with new attractions and commemorative events

Emma Henderson
Friday 22 April 2016 17:16 BST
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Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare's Birthplace (VisitEngland/Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust)

“All the world’s a stage”, Shakespeare famously wrote, and it’s a motto he certainly lived by, setting plays in locations from Italy to Denmark, the Czech Republic and North Africa.

Yet, it’s British shores that continue the Bard’s legacy most keenly, whether it’s his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, or London, home of the Globe theatre, where many of his works were staged during his lifetime. This Saturday marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, and commemorative events are taking place throughout the year (shakespeare400.org).

The Bard’s beginnings

Shakespeare’s Birthplace (shakespeare.org; £17.50), the house in which he was born and lived as a child, is still standing in Stratford-upon-Avon. Downstairs John Shakespeare taught his son William to make gloves, which they sold from their window. The parlour, hall and workshop remain as they would have been in 1574.

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom (shakespearesschoolroom.org; £8), a Grade I-listed building, opens to the public for the first time on Saturday, uncovering a relatively unknown time period for the playwright. Attending the King’s New School (now called King Edward VI School), he would have learnt Latin by rote and experienced theatre performed by the celebrated Earl of Leicester’s Men. Today visitors can sit in the room in which he would have sat, and take part in a Tudor-style lesson with a “Master”.

Shakespeare's Schoolroom

Shakespeare bought 107 acres of arable land in 1602 in old Stratford, which was passed on to his daughter, Susanna, and great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Nash. The land the bard would once have walked across now makes up some of the grounds and Italian gardens of the Welcombe (hallmarkhotels.co.uk), a neo-Jacobean hotel. Doubles from £77, B&B.

London calling

The Bard moved to London in 1592 to pursue his career as a playwright. His work was performed for Elizabeth I and James I, and in public at the Globe, built in 1599. Today’s theatre, re-constructed as it would have been, as a circular open-air theatre, sits just 230 metres from its original location along the Thames. Tickets range from the bargain standing “groundlings” of £5 to more comfortable seats at £45.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary, the Globe has created the “Complete Walk” (shakespearesglobe.com), an immersive 2.5 mile walk with 37 short films, starring actors such as Toby Jones and Ruth Wilson, each exploring one aspect of a Shakespeare play. The free walk runs on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 for the anniversary.

Shakespeare's Globe (Pawel Libera)

Italian job

Italy is the setting of 12 Shakespeare plays, including Romeo and Juliet and Othello. From March to December, Shakespeare in Veneto (shakespeareinveneto.it) will stage 60 performances in unique settings across the Italian region, including grand palazzi in Venice, a villa in Padua, and a castle and “Juliet’s Tomb” (set within a former convent) in Verona. Tickets from €35.

Great Danes

The Prince of Denmark’s Kronborg Castle, the setting for Hamlet, lies in Helsingor, 45 minutes outside of Copenhagen. Every summer it celebrates HamletScenen (hamletscenen.dk), a festival featuring international theatre companies performing some of the Bard’s best-loved plays. Performance tickets start at around 100 krone (£11).

Although it is debated whether Shakespeare himself ever visited the location, which he called Elisnore in the play, you can also explore the Unesco-listed castle (visitdenmark.com). Admission 90 krone (£10).

Kronborg Castle, Denmark

Royal treatment

Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor for a celebration at Windsor Castle. That performance wasn’t open to the public, but the castle now is (royalcollection.org.uk; £20) and you can also drop in to two places that claim to be where the play was written: Ye Olde Kings Head (01753 424750) and the Harte and Garter Hotel (harteandgarterhotel.com).

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