Charles lays wreath on Shakespeare's grave on 400th anniversary of Bard's death


The Prince of Wales has laid a wreath at the grave of William Shakespeare after thousands of well-wishers gathered to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death.

Charles visited the last resting place of the Bard at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon after touring the site of a new garden located on what was the location of the world-renowned playwright's former home.

Earlier a parade attended by more than 10,000 people brought the Warwickshire town to a standstill as the world came to remember Shakespeare's continuing legacy.

Later the Prince, paying his respects with a moment's silence and prayer inside the church, was shown an inscription of Shakespeare's grave stone which reads "cursed be he who moves my bones".

The Rev Patrick Taylor explained how it was believed the writer had his grave inscribed with the curse because he was "petrified" his remains might be moved to a nearby charnel house, which lies behind a church door just a yard or two from the grave.

Charles replied: "It certainly reminds you of your mortality".

Earlier, as he looked around the church which has been a place of worship for 1,200 years, the Prince remarked: "It is such a special place."

He was given a guidebook to keep by Year 5 pupils from Stratford-upon-Avon Primary School and met an elderly couple who had married in the church 60 years before.

Charles had a little earlier toured the New Place on the former site of Shakespeare's town house, now long since demolished, where a garden is being established to remember the poet's legacy and works.

For the Bard's supporters, the day had started with a theatrical parade through the town to pay homage to the writer, who was born and died on April 23.

Bishop of Coventry Christopher Cocksworth, speaking following Charles visit to the church, said: "It is a great and proud day for Stratford.

"He was a local boy who is a child of the town and now he's a child of the world."

In the morning the town witnessed a theatrical parade, made up in equal parts of contemplative moments, symbolism and riotous celebration, courtesy of a New Orleans jazz band.

Today's street celebrations featured civic dignitaries, local schoolchildren, musicians and performers, and a centrepiece ceremony with the unfurling of a birthday flag bearing the writer's image.

The crowds were asked to play their parts by tossing sprigs of rosemary "for remembrance", as the Bard wrote in Hamlet, as a funeral bier of flowers was pulled through the town's streets.

Visitors then donned thousands of Shakespeare face-masks which had been handed out.

The mood struck a more celebratory note with the appearance of the 12-piece Wendell Brunious Band from Louisiana who shuffled and shimmied along the parade route with a New-Orleans flavoured jazz procession.

Band leader Andrew LeDuff, said the group, including members of New Orleans' Tulane University, had jumped at the chance to mark Shakespeare's global impact and "celebrate his life".

Drummer Gerald French added: "We came to do a New Orleans jazz funeral for Shakespeare as he was one of the few people to be born and die the same day, so he gets a special procession.

"We bring a little New Orleans spirit and flair to this grand celebration - it's a wonderful thing."

Spectator Jane Haigh, who had travelled from Coventry with friend Janice Bobby, said she wanted to be present to mark "a wonderful legacy".

Ms Bobby added: "The great thing about Shakespeare is he's relevant today - he's very quotable, and his plays can be interpreted so widely.

"I do get very cross when people say he didn't write all his plays."

Playing a key role in this year's landmark anniversary is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), whose grand Stratford theatre on the banks of the River Avon continues to stage the Bard's plays in sell-out performances, in a testament to his on-going popularity.

Geraldine Collinge, director of events and exhibitions at the RSC, said the weekend celebration was a chance to remember the impact that the playwright, who was baptised in the town on April 26 1564, had on the English language.

Ms Collinge said: "He is so much part of what we do every day.

She added: "All the things that he talked about in his plays so well are still things that still concern us in our lives today.

"Which is pretty amazing for someone who died 400 years ago."

The day's festivities conclude with a fireworks display and a line of light, leading to Holy Trinity, where there will be a graveside vigil.

On Saturday evening, a star-studded gala of performances celebrating the Bard's life are being performed at the riverside Royal Shakespeare Theatre attended by Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Shakespeare Live! features Tennant, who earned critical acclaim in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Richard II and played Hamlet in 2009, as well as Al Murray, Tim Minchin, Rufus Wainwright and Joseph Fiennes.

Earlier today, US president Barack Obama was treated to a special performance of scenes from Hamlet at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, praising the actors as "wonderful".

The president made an early-morning trip to the playhouse in Southwark to mark the anniversary of the Bard's death.

Shakespeare, who penned almost 40 plays, over 150 sonnets, and coined well-known phrases still widely used to this day, died in 1616.