The Shakespeare Birthday procession in Stratford-upon-Avon is held annually on the weekend nearest his birthday (it’s assumed his birthday was on or around April 23rd as his baptism entry is April 26th and three days was the usual length of time between the birth and baptism). Every year the great and the good turn up to process around the town which is always full of locals and visitors to the town. It’s an event that I wouldn’t miss now.
My day started at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre where the Friends of the RSC met for their annual Shakespeare Birthday party (9.30 in the morning might seem a little early to start on the Buck’s Fizz but no-one was complaining!). Actors from the current company gave readings from the Bard’s work, Jasper Britton (currently playing the lead role in the Jew of Malta) and Matthew Kelly (playing Friar Jacomo) to name but two. Greg Doran Artistic Director of the RSC proposed the toast to William and Jasper Britton cut a splendid birthday cake which served as my breakfast for the day.
We then walked to the High Street past Morris dancers and street entertainers to the RSC Friends’ flagpole where actor Geoffrey Freshwater (Friar Barnadine) unfurled the RSC Friends’ flag. The procession began and was led by a glorious pair of horses hitched to a cart that carried a huge birthday cake decorated with a ‘Battle of Agincourt’ theme by community arts groups and local schoolchildren.The Deputy Head boy from KES (Shakespeare’s school) then led our group into the procession. We all carried bouquets of flowers (or in my case 3 rather droopy daffoldils) and slowly walked around the town, past Shakespeare’s Birthplace, to Holy Trinity Church. The procession included local schools, members of the local council, actors from the RSC, what looked like most of the cohort of students from King Edward Sixth school, University of Birmingham, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (including Michael Wood, that fantastic TV historian and a whole slew of academics, Tudor folk, Polish dancers, life-size teddy bears and many, many, children.
On arrival at the church, we halted as the various groups ahead of us gave in their floral offerings to be laid on the Bard’s grave. I would guess we were placed about mid-procession and by the time we arrived, the chancel was awash with spring flowers. It’s a stunning sight to behold and we would have lingered were it not for the press of the crowd behind us. We emerged into the weak spring sunshine to meet friends and colleagues and discuss the day and events to come.
But today also saw the start of the wonderful Stratford Literary Festival which brings the cream of the talent in the literary world right to our door – or to the door of the Stratford Artshouse. I attended the launch party in the early evening and went onto the Bear Pit Theatre a few doors along Rother Street to see Robert Douglas-Fairhurst talking about The Story of Alice, an illuminating and often funny examination of the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories.
The events to come at the Literary Festival are an absolute feast and it’s just a shame that it will all be over by May 3rd. Having said that, I think next year I’ll go into training because looking at my diary over the next ten days, I’m going to need some stamina!
Further information about the Literary Festival is available at: http://www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk/