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A birthday bard! Shakespeare at 450

William Shakespeare. Handsome devil. Gadzooks, William Shakespeare is 450 today! Well, obviously he’s not actually 450, unless he was Nicolas Flamel and had a hidden stash of elixir, but you know what we mean. It’s the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth on 23 April, and the country – and we – are celebrating all year with outdoor performances, Bardly festivals and a whole host of theatre related things. Verily.

Grab your Shakespeare (you might prefer the Kindle version), pack your bag/campervan/tourer and put your best foot forward for a dramatic tour around the land of Shakespeare:

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Along with Shakespeare’s Globe in London, friends, Romans and countrymen rightly make Stratford-upon-Avon an early stop, as it’s where Shakespeare was born and is now the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s two theatres the Royal Shakespeare and the Swan.

The town has five main Shakespeare places to visit: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft, Mary Arden’s House, and Nash’s House; buy a Shakespeare Five House Pass to save your pennies and also take in a trip to Shakespeare’s tomb at Holy Trinity Church. (Shakespeare reportedly penned his own inscription here, which threatened a curse on any devil incarnate disturbing his bones. We’re impressed.)

Naturally, Stratford also has more Shakespearean events than you can shake an Elizabethan stick at: 2014 sees the Famous Beyond Words exhibition; a giant wallbook featuring 38 plays in nine metres (until 2 November); and live daily performances from Shakespeare Aloud! Once you’re done declaiming, stick around in Stratford for other touristy treats like a boat trip on the Avon, a flutter at Stratford Racecourse or investigating Ye Old Tudor Worlde and meeting the man himself at The Falstaff’s Experience Museum.

Shakespeare’s Way

The real deal Forsooth, we like the look of this. Running theatrically for 146 miles from Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe in London (that’s a long run), Shakespeare’s Way is called a ‘journey of imagination’, which we think means that no-one can be quite sure which of its stretches the Bard strolled.

But we care not a jot, as the trail goes through some of England’s most green and pleasant land such as Blenheim Park, Oxford, the Cotswolds, the Grand Union Canal Walk and the Thames Path – if you can’t see yourself swinging delightedly along here, soliloquising happily from Hamlet or Julius Caesar, then you, sir or madam, have no soul.

The Shakespeare Trail

In honour of William’s 450th, the National Trust has listed places outside the Globe theatre and Stratford-upon-Avon for a gentle Shakespearely (that’s a word; if he can make words up then so can we) trip around England. Too much of a good thing? Time will out.

Start off in Surrey to see the famous playwright portrait at Hatchlands Park – hung next to a painting of the Earl of Southampton, allegedly the ‘fair youth’ of the sonnets; then cut across to Kent to Smallhythe Place, home of one of Shakespeare’s first leading ladies, Dame Ellen Terry and with her 1888 Macbeth dress still on display. Go oop north next to Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire , where the young William may well have been a player, and come full circle to Warwickshire to get doe-eyed at the fallow deer in Charlecote Park, which the pilfering poet was allegedly done for poaching as a young man. Would that poets were as wily today…

Great Glamis!, Angus

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’ (we are of course not saying the name; it would be like saying Voldemort ) was set at Glamis Castle at the foot of the Angus Glens (Mr M was the Thane of Glamis before his bloody downfall). Like many a writer, Mr S used a healthy dollop of poetic licence in the telling of the tale – the real King M never lived at Glamis, but had a hilltop fortress at Dunsinane Hill in Perthshire .

Not sure what we’re going on about? As good luck would have it, two National Trust performances this summer might shed some light on the matter – those of vaulted ambition can go to both.

(If ruins and royalty are your towering passions, details of Glamis Castle and others are in our Scottish castles blog .)

Happy birthday to William

Make as merry as the day is long this week and weekend with festive fireworks and other celebrations marking Shakespeare’s birthday, such as felicitations in York , the opening of the ‘ Willow Globe’ in Wales and sonnet walks in Surrey .

The main birthday celebrations at Stratford-upon-Avon take place this weekend (26 – 27 April), including a birthday procession on Saturday morning followed by a community pageant, street entertainers, storytelling, acting, music, sonnet readings and children’s parties around the town – and a Shakespeare marathon on the Sunday. On Wednesday 23, the RSC launches its Shakespeare birthday celebrations with fireworks melting into thin air from the top of the theatre after the evening performance of Henry IV Part I. If you're a-fancying a very last-minute break, Dodwell Park two miles from Stratford has electric pitches available tonight from £18 - two dogs go free.

Shakespearean sojourns

Doctor Hamlet Continue your cultural exposure with a visit to a few of these Shakespeare festivals and events:

A {midsummer night’s} Dream , for deaf and hearing audiences aged 3 – 11, on tour from 1 May – 21 June

Ludlow Shakespeare Festival , 14 – 22 June, Shropshire

A Midsummer Night's Dream open air, 25 June – 15 July, Ripley Castle, N Yorkshire

Bristol Shakespeare Festival , 9 – 27 July

Norwich Cathedral Shakespeare Festival , 16 – 19 July, Norfolk

Pendley Shakespeare Festival , 6 – 17 August, Hertfordshire

Henry IV, Brownsea Open Air Theatre , 23 July – 8 August, Dorset

The Reduced Shakespeare Company, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) , on tour from 27 May

See also:

Shakespeare Week

Eye Shakespeare app

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, free at Project Gutenberg