World / Europe

Shakespeare's 448th birthday celebrated

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-04-22 07:26

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, Britain - People gave him flowers and birthday cards, and shared his birthday cake. He will be 448 years old two days later, if he is still alive.

He is William Shakespeare.

Various activities were held on Saturday in Stratford-upon-Avon, hometown of the playwright to wish him a Happy Birthday.

The small town was bathed in warm sunshine Saturday morning. It woke up at around 9 a.m., when people began gathering in front of Shakespeare's birth place, some with flowers and some distributing small flags bearing his images.

About two hours later, a man dressed as Shakespeare in the Victorian costume opened the wooden door of his house, stepped out and presented a quill to a student of the King Edward VI school where the famous poet once attended.

It implied that the great poet gave his talent to local youth, and marked the start of a celebration parade through the town with students, charity workers as well as actors and actresses. While a band was playing the music "happy birthday to you," some silver-haired senior people performed traditional Morris dances.

The parade ended in the Holy Trinity Church, where visitors placed bouquets and wreaths on his tomb.

"The most presented flower was rosemary," said a nun in the church. "Rosemary means remembrance."

Born in 1564 and died in 1616, William Shakespeare is definitely world's pre-eminent dramatist leaving a legacy of 38 plays, 154 sonnets and many poems. His plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed, and reinterpreted in various languages in the world.

Traces of Shakespeare's early life

The scenic town with barely 25,500 people was where Shakespeare was born and grew up. Traces of his life could still be found easily.

The King Edward VI school was founded in 1553 and is still in use with 563 boys studying there. In the school there was a classroom once attended by William Shakespeare, with visible beams and a brass plate on the wall briefly telling Shakespeare's life.

"This is even nowadays a very good school," said Bob Taylor, 65. "No wonder he could write such wonderful works."

His father's Tudor-style two-storey terrace was well-preserved too. "The rooms were decorated in the way to look at it when Shakespeare was a child," said Katie Neville, one of the guides who has worked in the residence for five years.

The first room in the house was a guest house, with a bed inside. "At that time, bed was considered luxury and middle-class families like Shakespeare's would display it to show their wealth," said Neville.

Two wooden boxes on a rack were actually used by John Shakespeare, William's father who was a member of city council, to keep documents. He was a glove-maker as well. The work was not easy considered by standards nowadays, as a tanner used urine to cure the leather. Young Shakespeare did it as well.

A bedroom on the upstairs was where the dramatist was born. The bed was covered by red and green curtains. "Red was the colour of protection while green represents family love," said the fast-speaking Neville who seemed always joyful.

Shakespeare as a friend

An actor Marko Spriggs was dressed in a scarlet theatrical robe and recited to visitors lines in Shakespeare's famous plays, like the well-known opening phrase of a soliloquy in Hamlet, "to be or not to be."

"I am here to give people a taste of Shakespeare's time," said the 40-year-old man. "When there are more people, like 50 or 60, I will play Julius Caesar, while if I just have one or two audiences, I will do some quieter scenes like in Othello."

Spriggs started learning theatrical performances since the age of 15. Shakespeare was more of an icon to him.

"Any actor at some point in his career must have his mouth armed with Shakespeare's words," he said. "He is the greatest writer the world has ever produced."

He considered it a "tremendous honour to act where Shakespeare was born". The work was not easy, but " when you see your audiences overwhelmed, or hear they say 'it is a special memory in my life,' you feel the work rewarding."

Maybe Shakespeare's language was difficult for people from other cultures, or even from young British people. "But the power of poetry has effect and people could be touched by the rhythm of his poems," he said, recalling once a toddler who could barely speak uttered the word "Nomeo" as "Romeo."

Talking about her work here, Neville told Xinhua it made her feel Shakespeare close to her. "By bringing Shakespeare to life, I seemed to have travelled back in time."

In her own words, she felt Shakespeare "a personal friend" of her.

"He is hard-working and easy-going," she said. "He must have made good friends with the apprentices of his father and the nobel customers alike, which is why he could depict different people vividly in his works."

Exuberant town

Shakespeare's birthday celebrations turned Stratford-upon-Avon an exuberant town.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust made him a rectangular cake, with his images and the national flag pattern on it. It was later shared by visitors.

In the streets, one can see actors and actresses dressed as Shakespeare's characters singing and reciting in front of visitors.

On the grassland by the riverside, a group of elderly people sang some traditional holy songs to wish him happy birthday.

Even on the ferry above the water, an actor holding a book would ask travellers to choose a sonnet for him to recite.

"I have seen such activities for years and when I was a child, I once took part in the celebration, the parade," said a local woman Clare in her 30s.

People managed to add a touch of Chinese culture to the celebrations on Saturday.

In front of Shakespeare's birth place, ten boys from the Fenghua Middle School in east China's Jiangsu Province performed dragon dances, attracting many local people to take photos. They were invited by local government to take part in the celebration.

"Shakespeare is a master of British literature and dragon dance is part of Chinese culture," said Mao Weiming, vice principal of the school. "But by putting them together, we want to say that culture knows no boundary."

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