Saturday 23 April 2016 saw Stratford-upon-Avon’s annual Shakespeare Parade celebrate not only the 452nd birthday of the Bard but also the 400th anniversary of his death

Naturally, Shakespeare Magazine’s Stratford-upon-Avon correspondent Emma Wheatley was on hand to record the festivities in words and images…

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The crowds gathered in the town centre as a funeral bell tolled and a floral tribute was carried on a wheeled bier.

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Escorted by four masked characters evoking comedy and tragedy, the tribute was placed in front of the dais as it awaited the morning’s parade.

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All the participants of the parade took their places, many dressed in bright colours ready to join the celebration.

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It was time for the Head Boy of the King Edward’s School, which Shakespeare attended as a boy, to bring the quill to the parade and lead the parade to Holy Trinity Church, where the quill will remain for the next year.

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Before the parade set off, local town criers called for “Three cheers for William Shakespeare!”
With each cheer, a confetti cannon was fired to mark the celebration.

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And then a New Orleans Jazz Band surprised the crowded to lead a jazz funeral procession!

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Intriguingly, the jazz funeral was inspired by the James Bond film Live and Let Die. “The jazz funeral has a clear change of tempo,” explained Town Clerk Sarah Summers, “from sombre remembrance to lively celebration, full of music, dancing and expression. That contrast seemed exactly right for our parade which marks both Shakespeare’s birthday and his death.”

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The jazz band got the crowd in a party mood and headed off on the parade route before joining up with the students of King Edward’s School along with other local schools as they led the way to the church.

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Following the band were local dignitaries, businesses and guests – from Stratford and around the world. Many were dressed in Shakespearean costumes.

After the parade, many events were held around the town.

These ranged from stage fighting to mask-making to a 40-minute performance entitled Wondrous Strange by Mimbre. They gamely provided overviews of Shakespeare’s plays through acrobatics. A particular highlight was the retelling of the historical plays with a fight over a crown.
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The evening closed with a spectacular fireworks display that saw an effigy of Shakespeare’s face set ablaze and the sky lit up.

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Finally, a midnight candle-lit vigil was held at Shakespeare’s grave to honour the man himself and bring the day’s celebrations to an end.

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Shakespeare Magazine witnessed the 2015 Shakespeare Birthday Parade held on 25 April in the Bard’s Stratford-upon-Avon birthplace

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The Air Training Corps Band led the parade through the streets of Stratford. The route was extended this year to incorporate Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street – taking the parade from cradle to grave.

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A staple part of the celebrations is the town’s William Shakespeare and his wife at the front of the walking parade.

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The big birthday cake this year was themed around the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, a battle which features in Shakespeare’s Henry V. The cake was decorated by local school children and artists.

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Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, taking part in the walking parade to leave flowers at Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church.

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The annual handing over of the quill between Shakespeare and the head boy of King Edward’s School, which Shakespeare attended as a boy. This recent tradition was added to the parade at the suggestion of Gregory Doran, who felt it would symbolise that Shakespeare’s writing lives on.

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The unfurling of the flags saw 451 gold and black balloons being released. Each balloon represented a year since Shakespeare’s birth.

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There was plenty of entertainment around Stratford. At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Keith Osborn read sonnets at the top of the viewing tower. We were treated to ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’.

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The view from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tower, looking towards Holy Trinity Church.

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There was street entertainment on every road. This was the Shakespeare Morris Dancers outside the town hall.

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Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare’s grave and monument beautifully adorned by all the floral tributes that were left from visitors around the world.