THOUSANDS are flocking to Stratford to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.
Townsfolk and tourists lined the streets to watch the annual birthday parade on Saturday (April 23).
Around 10,000 Shakespeare masks – based on a newly commissioned portrait of the Bard – were handed out prior to the parade.
And during the traditional quill and flag unfurling ceremonies, the crowd took the opportunity to put on their masks and give three cheers for Shakespeare.
KES Head Boy George Hodson carried the quill from the cradle to the grave while The School of Liberal Arts from Tulane University in Louisiana performed a New Orleans Jazz Funeral for William Shakespeare with music provided by The Wendell Brunious Band.
They joined the annual procession of dignitaries, VIPs, school students, and marching bands during the parade to Holy Trinity Church.
Of the celebrations Stratford District Council, Mike Gittus, said: “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to show the world just what Stratford has to offer.
“It gives us the opportunity of telling the world about not only William Shakespeare and his sad passing 400 years ago but also gives us a wonderful opportunity to say to people if you want to have a great time, if you want to immerse yourself in culture then come to Stratford.
“It’s an exciting place to visit, live and shop. This is the biggest celebration the town has seen.
“I don’t know how we’ll be able to top it next year because this year is such a special year.”
Lori Raccuia visiting from Stratford, Connecticut as part of the Stratfords of the World said: “The procession is really unbelievable, seeing all the people who have come out on this very special day.
“We’ve been treated to a wonderful experience of what it is like to live here.
“It’s so wonderful, warm and welcoming. And it’s great to have this connection with Stratford upon Avon and with the other Stratfords from around the world.”
Royalty and some of the biggest names in film and theatre circles paid tribute to the world’s greatest ever wordsmith over the weekend.
HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the Bard’s final home New Place, and also Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised and where he is buried during the afternoon.
And in the evening, the Prince, who is also president of the RSC, and the Duchess, attended the all-star Shakespeare Live! event at the RST, which was screened live on BBC Two and in cinemas around the world.
The royal couple, and Stratfordians who secured the free tickets through a ballot, enjoyed a variety show of words and music put together by RSC artistic director Greg Doran.
Presented by former Doctor Who star and renowned Shakesperean David Tennant, the line-up included a host of famous faces including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Ian McKellen, David Suchet, Rufus Wainwright and Benedict Cumberbatch,
And the Prince even got in on the action himself – taking to the stage to deliver his take on Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ at the gala variety show.
He joined a line of Hamlets – who included the RSC’s current Dane, Paapa Essiedu, Tim Minchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Dame Harriet Walter, Sir Ian McKellen, and Dame Judi Dench.
His performance delighted the packed RST and a global TV and cinema audience.
The day ended with a special firework display and the skies above the iconic building were lit up in all manner of colours as people of all nationalities took to Bancroft to celebrate the Bard’s legacy.
Shakespeare was also honoured on internet search engine giant’s Google’s main page.