Prince Charles joined top British actors live on stage in a surprise crack at playing “Hamlet”, as thousands of William Shakespeare fans packed The Bard’s hometown for the 400th anniversary of his death on Saturday.
The heir to the throne joined the likes of Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen and David Tennant at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon for the culmination of a day of parades, dancing and fireworks.
The “Shakespeare Live!” show, celebrating the English language’s foremost playwright, was being broadcast live on British television and beamed to cinemas across Europe at the time.
Charles, 67, who had been watching from the Royal Box, strode on stage asking the cast “Might I have a word?”, during a sketch on how to deliver the famous “To be, or not to be” opening line from Hamlet’s soliloquy — before having a go himself.
Gregory Doran, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director, said the Prince of Wales revelled in the chance to play the Prince of Denmark.
“I knew he’d be game and up for it but wanted to make sure it was appropriate and fun,” he said.
“I took up my courage and said ‘how about being in it?’, and he jumped at it.”
Jazz and codpieces
Earlier some 10,000 people turned out in Stratford, central England, to see a parade revved up by a New Orleans jazz band, with The Bard’s fans donning Shakespeare masks as they joined in the party.
And in London, US President Barack Obama visited the modern replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to watch scenes from “Hamlet” performed on the open-air stage.
Shakespeare was born, lived, worked, died and was buried in Stratford, a quiet Warwickshire market town.
The theatrical parade saw a funeral bier of flowers pulled through the picture-postcard streets, while performers marched along wearing pantaloons, ruffs and codpieces.
Meanwhile Chinese actors performed in the garden of Shakespeare’s family home, where it is assumed he was born.
Dench, 81, said Shakespeare’s works revolved around timeless themes of love, greed, jealousy, war and capitulation.
“I think I’ve been in 26 of his plays,” the Oscar-winner told BBC television.
“He’s a real passion in my life… The language of all the plays, I could drown in it.”
Charles earlier laid a wreath at Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church after touring the site of a new garden on what was the location of the playwright’s home.
“It certainly reminds you of your mortality,” he said, reading the curse inscribed on the ledger stone that warns against moving Shakespeare’s bones.
Shakespeare penned almost 40 plays, more than 150 sonnets, and coined well-known phrases still in widespread usage.
“The heart of human experience”
At The Globe in London, Obama was treated to scenes including the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet” by a cast that has spent two years touring the play round the world.
The president watched intently before clapping loudly and joining the cast onstage.
“Let me shake hands with everyone. That was wonderful. I don’t want it to stop,” Obama said.
Dominic Dromgoole, outgoing artistic director of the Globe, put Shakespeare’s enduring appeal down to “fantastic stories that sit at the heart of human experience in all forms”.
“He’s a great wit, a great entertainer and his plays are generous — they make you feel more and understand more,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of how much Shakespeare can do in the world.”
Outside the theatre, 37 short films — one for each of Shakespeare’s plays — were shown on giant screens snaking along the River Thames.
From Dubai to Las Vegas, Shakespeare’s plays packed out theatres to mark the occasion, highlighting his worldwide appeal.
Costumed mourners rallied in Gdansk in Poland to mark the anniversary, dressed in black with their faces painted white. The seaport city’s Shakespeare theatre was inaugurated by the Globe’s touring cast.
Meanwhile people dressed in old uniforms marched in front of Kronborg Castle in Helsingor, Denmark, where “Hamlet” was set.