Thousands pay homage to Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon parade


Thousands of well-wishers from around the world have gathered at Shakespeare's birthplace to celebrate the playwright's legacy on the 400th anniversary of his death.

A theatrical parade through Stratford-upon-Avon was attended by more than 10,000 people paying homage to the Bard, who was born and died on April 23.

In a ceremony made up in equal parts of contemplative moments, symbolism and riotous celebration, courtesy of a New Orleans jazz band, Shakespeare's hometown began a weekend of events marking the keynote occasion.

Later, the celebrations will gain the royal seal of approval with Prince Charles touring the writer's former home and his graveside at Stratford's Holy Trinity Church.

He will then be joined by the Duchess of Cornwall for a special televised gala performance at the town's Royal Shakespeare Theatre, featuring David Tennant, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench.

The parade 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 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."

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."

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 ongoing popularity.

Geraldine Collinge, director of events and exhibitions at the RSC, said the weekend celebration was a chance to remember the impact 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.

"I think in this country we forget so many of the words we use, so many of the expressions and things we talk about have come from Shakespeare, like 'all that glistens isn't gold' or 'neither a borrower or a lender be', so some of the things you just say all the time come from Shakespeare."

The day's festivities conclude with a fireworks display and a line of light, leading to Holy Trinity Church, 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.

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.