24 Apr 2016

Bard's outrageous fortune lives on

3:40 pm on 24 April 2016

The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death is being marked across Britain with parades, church services and - of course - stage performances. The play's the thing, after all.

People wearing William Shakespeare masks line the street in Stratford-upon-Avon during a parade to mark 400 years since the bard's death.

People wearing William Shakespeare masks line the street in Stratford-upon-Avon during a parade to mark 400 years since the bard's death. Photo: AFP

The Royal Shakespeare Company is mounting a stage extravaganza in London with performances by British actors Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen - and even Prince Charles. Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday, on 23 April. 1616.

Every major London cultural organisation is contributing to the year-long Shakespeare 400 festival. The Globe Theatre is presenting 1616: A Momentous Year - a year-long series of events, talks, lectures and special performances to celebrate Shakespeare's life, plus an exhibition of special displays and items from around the world. There will also be workshops, conferences, a family story-telling festival, and even a Kabuki inspired 'Ophelia' in Japanese.

The centrepiece of its Shakespeare celebration in London is 'The Complete Walk' - 37 specially-made short films playing on loop along a 4km route from Westminster to Tower Bridge. Each 10-minute film explores an aspect of a Shakespeare plays in scenes shot in the locations he imagined.

The Globe, which is known for presenting the bard's work as it would have been seen in his day, is taking a production of Hamlet on a two-year global tour.

Around the world, Shakespeare is more popular than ever, and the 400th anniversary will be commemorated in theatres worldwide.

In New Zealand, Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SGCNZ) is holding Shake Alive 2016 - a year of celebrations to commemorate the centre's 25th anniversary as well as the Quattro Centennial of Shakespeare's death.

Shakespeare helped shape the English language, introducing up to 300 words and dozens of well-known phrases. His phenomenal output includes 154 sonnets on themes such as love, sex and beauty.

Costumed mourners march in Gdansk, Poland, to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of English playwright William Shakespeare.

Costumed mourners march in Gdansk, Poland, to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of English playwright William Shakespeare. Photo: AFP

Dominic Dromgoole, the London Globe's artistic director, said the playwright's popularity was only likely to grow further.

"We haven't scratched the surface of how far and how deep he can speak to different communities."

Shakespeare's death wasn't the only significant theatrical event of 1616. Theatre impresario Philip Henslowe, playwright Francis Beaumont, Spain's Miguel Cervantes, and the Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu also died that year.

In the same year, Ben Jonson published his pioneering Folio edition of his own plays, which paved the way for the Shakespeare First Folio seven years later. As Johnson wrote in his preface to Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623, "He was not of an age, but for all time".

Shakespeare and Cervantes

The man whose job is to make 2016 in Britain the year of the Don Quijote author, as well as Shakespeare, said there were many similarities between the two men. Julio Crespo directs the London branch of the Cervantes Institute, the Spanish equivalent of the British Council.

He rejected criticism that the Spanish celebration of Cervantes' life has a lower profile than the fuss being made about Shakespeare.

"What is the aim of an anniversary like this? It is more to promote the works and reach the average citizens than to make a lot of noise," he said. "You can spend a lot of money on celebrations that seem to be very impressive but don't really have a serious content."

People march in front of Kronborg Castle in Helsingor - the setting of William Shakespeare's Hamlet - to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death.

People march in front of Kronborg Castle in Helsingor - the setting of William Shakespeare's Hamlet - to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death. Photo: AFP

Mr Crespo took care to emphasise how much the writers have in common. It was because both writers were traditionally thought to have died on 23 April that this became World Book Day, he said. Both writers' works have been translated into more than 100 languages.

"They were different writers using different forms but both contributed to elevate the level of the language and culture to which they belonged in a similar way," he said.

Andres Trapiello, an expert on Cervantes, said he was an enormous fan of Shakespeare, citing the poetic richness of the English bard's verse.

"Hamlet is my favourite play, but even in some of the weaker works, there are always amazing passages. For example, I don't rate Romeo and Juliet especially highly, but the leave-taking scene between the two lovers is of extraordinary quality," he says.

Ultimately, Trapiello feels that Shakespeare's obvious dramatic qualities give his work a modern edge, which lends it more easily to film adaptations.

"Quixote, on the other hand, is a series of small anecdotes. It does not translate at all into the language of cinema," he says. "All films about Quixote have tried to be funny and they have all failed."

-BBC, Reuters

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