Shakespeare’s Birthday, Stratford-Style

Saturday 23 April was a pretty important date in the Shakespearean calendar. Not only was it Shakespeare’s birthday AND deathday, but it was the 400th anniversary of the latter occasion. So, naturally, Shakespeareans from around the world travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon and took to the streets to celebrate with the help of various famous people and a Mardi Gras jazz band from New Orleans. It was fun and bemusing in equal measure.

A major part of the celebrations took the form of a procession through the town centre. Lots of different groups took part – local schools and organisations, representatives from different Stratfords around the world, and even (a stand-in for) the Queen. It was a pretty big bunch of people.

I was lucky enough to represent my MA course cohort in the Shakespeare Institute’s procession party. So I took a break from my studies (whose idea was it to put a massive deadline right after Shakespeare’s birthday?), donned my finest winter coat (it was freezing), and got to Stratford bright and early. Here’s how the rest of the morning panned out:

10.15am. We started off by walking to our muster point in the town centre. There were already lots of people waiting at the side of the road, but we had plenty of time to straighten our rosemary pins (for remembrance!) and decide who’d be carrying the banner and bouquets. And for an obligatory selfie, of course ;).


10.45am. Next, we walked down to our official starting position on the main shopping street. We stood proudly next to our University of Birmingham flagpole and waited to be told what to do next. Don’t we all look smiley?


11am. The parade kicked off with the head boy of a local school placing a quill onto a hearse-like thing (naturally). The organisers had decided this would be a good opportunity for a world record attempt: the highest number of people to simultaneously wear a Shakespeare mask in one place. Or something. Creepy, no? The New Orleans jazz band shimmied past, and before too long we started making our way through the streets behind them.


The streets were lined with people on either side, and we had great fun waving and pretending to be famous. My face got slightly achey after a little while from all the smiling.


This was one of the spots where the crowd was at its busiest. I saw a couple of famous faces during the morning (Ian McKellan and Sam West), and both were around this area. Opposite HSBC is obviously the place to be on Shakespeare’s birthday.


Further along the road, outside the Shakespeare Institute, we saw even more familiar faces. Students and staff stood outside the entrance to wave to us as we processed by, and they even managed to get a few photos of us marching happily in our floral splendour.


It was then time to make our final approach to the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. As you can see, the procession was quite long…


The weather was glorious (but cold), and there were plenty more people standing by as we processed into the Church.


Almost there! We walked through the Church with bouquets in hand ready to lay on Shakespeare’s grave. It’s a verrry pretty Church, so I was happy enough to queue patiently as we waited to move forward.


When we got to the front of the Church, we handed our flowers to a team of Church peoples who were on hand to arrange the bouquets on and around the grave. As you might expect, there were a lot of flowers to arrange…


And here’s how the front of the Church looked by the time we had arrived and presented our flowers. Isn’t it pretty? The procession went on for quite some time after we had left the Church: there were more groups behind us, and those who’d come to watch were welcome to join the end of the line to lay their flowers on the grave, too. I imagine Holy Trinity was a flowery place to be by the end of the day!

After leaving the Church, we continued the celebrations in the best place we could think of: the pub! Pub grub and a pint with friends definitely seemed like a good way to round off the day before heading home and (sigh) carrying on with my work.

The deadline, thankfully, has now passed, and I’m on my way back to a normal state of being where brain power is used for fun things like reading, baking, and writing blog posts. Taking this time out to celebrate the guy I’m dedicating the next few years of my life to writing about was one of the ways I managed to achieve a better work-life balance in the run-up to this deadline, though. I’ve learnt a lot about how I work best during the past few weeks – check back soon to read all about it!