This April marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the most revered writer in history, William Shakespeare—April 23, to be exact—and to honor his legacy, his home country of England is rolling out the grandest of celebrations. From historic landmarks in the bard’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon to some of his former haunts in London, the country is commemorating the historic date by unveiling honorary performances, exhibitions, archeological projects, and more, ranging from authentic to avant-garde.
Despite the crowds some of these places and events are sure to draw, they’re still worthy of a visit for history buffs, literary types, and, of course, Shakespeare fanatics. So, shouldst thou visiteth England in the near future, here’s how to walketh in the footsteps of the world’s most wondrous scribe.
The Complete Deaths, Brighton
Fans of the macabre, this one’s for you: Experimental theatre company Spymonkey is putting on a 90-minute spectacle that will reenact all 75 of Shakespeare’s deaths—including stabbings, beheadings, two mob dismemberments, and the “black ill-flavor’d” fly from Titus Andronicus. The Complete Deaths (pictured at top) promises plenty of violence and blood, but still will reflect a comedic bent, according to director Tim Crouch. The play will premiere worldwide at the Brighton Festival in May, before touring through the United Kingdom and eventually coming to Chicago in December.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon
Photo courtesy of Ben Pruchnie/Getty
Perhaps the most fitting spot to start a Shakespearean sojourn is his actual birthplace and childhood home, a half-timbered house on Henley Street that has been restored and furnished to appear as it did centuries ago. Young Shakespeare was born here in 1564 (by most accounts also on April 23) and lived there until he married Anne Hathaway when he was 18. Costumed docents lead informative and lively tours through the house, while a wall of books at least 29-feet tall stands in the garden showing a timeline of 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. Also on-site is Shakespeare Aloud!, an acting troupe that puts on live performances based on requests from visitors (bonus points for offering something a little more original than the Juliet balcony scene).
Shakespeare’s New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon
For the first time in more than 250 years, visitors will have the chance to follow in the footsteps of the famous playwright right over the threshold of his very own adult home: the mansion he purchased after making his fortune on the London stage. It was here that he and Hathaway raised their children, and where he kept his library and likely wrote later plays before his death in 1616.
The house was demolished 250 years ago, and an extensive >>$7.5 million renovation project that organizers describe as “the single most significant and enduring Shakespearian project anywhere in the world” will be unveiled in July. One highlight will be a new garden that follows the lines of the former house that was rediscovered in a significant archeological evacuation. The garden will also feature a sculpture of a 15-foot tempest-bent bronze tree, as well as a bronze recreation of a Tudor desk and chair where visitors can sit and soak in the inspired settings, just as Shakespeare did nearly four centuries ago.
Shakespeare takes on a whole new flavor when a cast member is extremely drunk—and that’s the basis of this award-winning show by Magnificent Bastards Productions. For every performance, a “genuinely drunken professional actor” is chosen at random, and the remaining cast improvises A Midsummer Night’s Dream , The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing around him or her.
The Shakespeare Marathon and Half-Marathon, Stratford-upon-Avon
For more than 30 years, hundreds of runners have gathered annually to pound out the miles in Shakespeare’s former stomping grounds sometime around the anniversary of his death. In this year’s race (April 24), the route will be soundtracked by New York-based artist Devon Glover, aka the Sonnet Man, who performs Shakespearean excerpts in rap form.
Photo courtesy of Oli Scarff/Getty
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London
Upon moving to London around 1586, Shakespeare settled in the Bankside borough to be close to its many theatres. The acting company of which he was a member built the open-air theater in 1599, though it was destroyed in the early 1600s. The current incarnation, which opened in 1997, was specially built as a replica of the original theatre. A highlight of the theatre’s commemorative events is a weeklong residency of Hamlet, which starts April 23.
Even if you’re not catching a show, the Globe’s year-round tours and exhibitions offer an excellent overview of Shakespeare’s era. Top off your visit at the Swan, the on-site restaurant that recently unveiled an extensive renovation and revamped menu to coincide with Shakespeare’s anniversary. Starting April 23, diners can enjoy a quintessentially British tradition—afternoon tea—with a Midsummer Night’s Dream theme.
Shakespeare in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle
For visitors already planning on a stop at Windsor Castle, this well-curated exhibit is a bonus. Focusing on the playwright’s longtime association with Windsor and the Royal Court, it will display rare folios of his work, including the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, which was written for the Royal Court and performed for Elizabeth I circa 1600. Some works will be shown for the very first time. The exhibit runs through January 2017.
A Year of Shakespeare Cocktails, London
Photo courtesy The Distillery Bankside
For cleverly named tipples that toast Shakespeare’s legacy, head to The Distillery at Bayside London, a swanky bar that opened in fall of 2015. The handsome bar developed a Shakespeare-themed cocktail menu with rotating drinks named using some of his most famous quotes, like Thus With a Kiss I Die, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo and It Is the East and Juliet is the Sun. The cocktails are even served on a clever mini-stage, complete with curtains.
Blane Bachelor is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in New York Magazine, Runner’s World, Hemispheres, and other outlets.