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PHOTOS: All the world's a stage for Shakespeare's 400th anniversary

AFP , Saturday 23 Apr 2016
A pyrotechnician lights a flaming depiction of William Shakespeare during a firework display at the Royal Shakespeare Company on 23 April 2016 (Photo: Reuters)
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William Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon led global celebrations on Saturday to mark 400 years since the Bard's death, as US President Barack Obama delighted in a performance of scenes from "Hamlet" at the Globe Theatre in London.

President Obama, on the last day of a visit to Britain, was treated to scenes including the famous "To be or not to be?" soliloquy on an early morning visit to the Globe, a reconstruction of a 16th century theatre on the banks of the River Thames.

Actors Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian McKellen, meanwhile, were among the star names due to celebrate the anniversary with more performances from Shakespeare's best known works at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.

At the Globe, the US president watched intently before clapping loudly and joining the cast on stage at the part open-air theatre, the brainchild of American actor and director Sam Wanamaker
"Let me shake hands with everyone. That was wonderful. I don't want it to stop," Obama told them.

Tourists watch actors perform at the house where William Shakespeare was born during celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death (Photo: Reuters)

Stratford, where Shakespeare was born and died, kicked off the day's merriment with a parade of performers wearing pantaloons, ruffs and codpieces through its historic streets, ending at his grave.

Visitors, performers and literature buffs from around the world descended on the sleepy central English market town for a day of theatre, dancing, fireworks and music.

Prince Charles, heir to the throne, was due to attend the "Shakespeare Live!" show later Saturday, which will also be broadcast on television in Britain and worldwide by the BBC, and beamed to cinemas around Europe.

In London, 37 short films featuring stars like Dominic West and Gemma Arterton -- one for each of Shakespeare's plays -- were shown on giant screens snaking along the River Thames.

Dominic Dromgoole, outgoing artistic director of the Globe, put Shakespeare's timeless appeal down to "fantastic stories that sit at the heart of human experience in all forms".

Tourists watch actors perform the Romeo and Juliet window scene at the house where William Shakespeare was born during celebrations on 23 April 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

"He's a great wit, a great entertainer and his plays are generous -- they make you feel more and understand more," he told AFP.

Although celebrations are held every year at this time to commemorate Shakespeare's life, organisers this year promised something extra-special.

Focal points for the celebrations included Shakespeare's family home in Stratford, where it is assumed he was born in 1564, and the Holy Trinity Church, where he was buried.

The schoolroom where Shakespeare is believed to have learned his craft, owned by King Edward VI School, will be permanently opened to visitors on Saturday following a £1.8 million ($2.6 million, 2.3 million euros) renovation.

An assistant poses with a human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt during the press preview of the exhibition 'Shakespeare in Ten Acts' at the British Library in London, Britain April 14, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Children currently studying at the school are carrying a quill to the Globe in London by cycling, rowing, and running the 100-mile (165-kilometre) journey.

From Warsaw, to Dubai and Las Vegas, Shakespeare's plays will also be playing to packed houses to mark the occasion, highlighting the international appeal of the English language's leading playwright.

"Everyone knows about 'Romeo and Juliet', about 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear'. Those iconic shapes speak to everyone because they are embedded in human culture," Dromgoole said, just before welcoming the "Hamlet" cast back on Friday from a tour which included a stop in Sudan.

"I don't think we've scratched the surface of how much Shakespeare can do in the world," he added.

A flaming depiction of William Shakespeare is seen during a firework display at the Royal Shakespeare Company, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

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