It's lovely when someone remembers your birthday. It's really special when they remember the occasion, 450 years on. The birth of William Shakespeare, considered by many the greatest ever playwright and poet, is being commemorated with a huge party this weekend at his birth-place Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England.
Interestingly, there is ongoing discussion and dispute as to exactly which day Shakespeare was born. If you wander into the town's Holy Trinity Church, you will see the parish registry entry of his baptism on April 26. Many historians have deduced that since baptisms occurred in the 1500s within three days or so of being born, then Shakespeare was born on April 23. Not everyone agrees. He died on April 23, 52 years later.
The town thrives on a robust tourism industry with about 3 million people each year wandering to the street where his family home still stands. There are walking tours (if you chance upon a wonderful gentleman called David Gunnell you are in for a delightful and mesmerising “theatrical” performance as he delivers the tales and wonders of Shakespeare's life) and the aforementioned church to visit. There are pubs the Bard may or may not have frequented and homes he could have lived in for a while and the lovely tale of the spiteful neighbour to be heard.
In the lead-up to this weekend, the visitor's centre, namely Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Henley Street, has had a revamp. It's more interactive and the entrance has had a minor facelift. The informative, brilliant guides that wander through the home telling great stories, remain.
Each year there's a “People's Pageant” through the streets which ends as flowers are reverently placed on Shakespeare's grave at the Holy Trinity but this weekend is extra special.
Huge throngs are expected to join the usual masses that gather. There will be jubilant flag-waving crowds on Saturday, lining the streets of the Elizabethan market town as the procession weaves its way through the streets, attracting actors, foreign diplomats and dignitaries.
Naturally, there is going to be a giant cake. A massive model concoction decorated by local primary school children will demand a horse and carriage for transport as it becomes a focal point for the procession, which marks its own 150th milestone.
A costumed character playing the role of Shakespeare will accompany the cake which is expected to begin its journey at his birthplace, head to the “Handing over the quill” (a current student of KES Grammar School where Shakespeare was a pupil will receive a ceremonial quill) in Bridge Street.
The vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon, Patrick Taylor, will then steer the cake and procession towards Shakespeare's grave at the Holy Trinity Church.
After the march, a community pageant will urge all locals and visitors to kick up their heels at the party: a joyous celebration which includes players, musicians and performers marking the milestone.
It's at this party that edible, free cake made by a local bakery will be administered to the sure-to-be ravenous revellers.
In addition, The Royal Shakespeare Company, based in Stratford, has embarked on a six-year endeavour to perform every single play he ever wrote.
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is an independent charity caring for the Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon. The charity runs formal and informal educational programs for people of all ages. It holds the world's largest Shakespeare-related museum and archives free to the public.
Royal Shakespeare Company aims to keep audiences in touch with Shakespeare by producing extensive education and outreach work. It strives to engage more people with the Bard's work and live theatre. The RSC performs throughout the year in Stratford-upon-Avon, in London and throughout the United Kingdom www.rsc.org.uk
London celebrations for the Bard's 450th birthday party
London has also planned a number of events to mark the milestone.
21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT
There are new productions of Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and The Comedy of Errors. A world tour (Hamlet Globe to Globe) will begin at Shakespeare's Globe this week and tour the world over a two-year period.
A new indoor theatre will open at the Globe named after its visionary founder – the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The candlelit venue's first performance is the The Duchess of Malfi.
Open all year round, the Globe Exhibition & Tour gives visitors an opportunity to learn more about the unique building and its most famous playwright.
Based under the Globe Theatre, the informative Exhibition explores the life of Shakespeare, the London where he lived and the theatre for which he wrote.
Middle Temple Hall
Middle Temple Lane, EC4Y 9AT
The first performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is said to have taken place in the Hall in 1602 with Queen Elizabeth I in attendance.
Middle Temple Hall remains virtually unaltered since completion in the 1570s and is one of the finest Elizabethan halls in the country.
V&A, Shakespeare: Our Greatest Living Playwright
Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL
This immersive installation examines the enduring influence and popularity of the world's most famous poet.
Drawing together objects from the V&A collection and interviews with key contemporary practitioners, Shakespeare: Our Greatest Living Play-wright (February 8 – September 28, 2014) examines how Shakespeare's plays have travelled across centuries and continents to be used as a springboard for theatrical reimaginings and interpretation.
London Walks, Shakespeare's & Dickens's London – The Old City
Meeting point: outside St. Paul's Underground station
London Walks takes Shakespeare and Dickens fans back in time visiting half-timbered Elizabethan dwellings and the magnificent early 16th-century gatehouse where the Bard went with his plays to the offices of the Elizabethan Master of the Revels.
For two hours explore the world of Shakespeare and Dickens. Tours run every Wednesday, 11am and Sunday, 2pm.
The Rose Theatre
56 Park Street, SE1 9AS
When it was erected in 1587, the Rose was only the fifth purpose-built theatre in London, and the first on Bankside - an area already rich in other leisure attractions such as brothels, gaming dens and bear-baiting arenas.
Shakespeare's plays performed at the theatre included Henry VI, Part I and Titus Andronicus.
Once The Globe was built, the Rose disappeared into history in 1603. In 1989 the archaeological site of the Rose was discovered and since then a long campaign to rebuild the theatre has been under way.
Theatregoers can visit the Rose every Saturday
For more information: www.visitlondon.com
Donna Demaio travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon as a guest of Qantas and Visit Britain.