Whether uttered on stage or sprinkled through pop culture, the language of William Shakespeare has a way of transcending time and touching upon many universal truths.April 23 marks the 450th anniversary of the bard’s birth and there is no better place to celebrate it than in Stratford-upon-Avon, his hometown.Local gemsAll over Stratford-upon-Avon, places associated with Shakespeare’s life and family have been converted into museums honoring the “swan of Stratford.” Run by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, these historical sites include Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, Hall’s Croft, Mary Arden’s Farm, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and New Place and Nash’s House.A good place to start is Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the Shakespeare Centre. When Shakespeare returned from London wealthy and famous, he purchased New Place and shrewdly converted his family home into the Maidenhead pub (later the Swan and Maidenhead). Today, throughout the property and gardens, Tudor-living actors periodically perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, adding to the charm of the creaky 16th-century building.Another must-see site is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Located about 10 minutes from the city center, this is where Shakespeare would have wooed his future, and much older, bride. The gardens and orchards are dotted with giant willow branch creations and benches. Visitors are encouraged to sit and listen to recordings of some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, and works such as those of Sonnet 18 — “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate” — come alive in the tranquil pastoral surroundings.You can also pay your respects at Shakespeare’s gravesite at the Holy Trinity Church. This lofty 13th-century church was where Shakespeare was both baptized and buried. Afterward, it’s just a short jaunt down the Avon to the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre. If you don’t have time to see a play, a quick trip to the top of its tower offers a spectacular, panoramic view of Stratford-upon-Avon. On the way out, check out props and costumes from RSC productions on display, including the robe worn by Sir Patrick Stewart when he played Prospero in The Tempest in 2006. A birthday bash The weekend of April 26 to 27, Stratford-upon-Avon will be swarming with fans excited to partake in the 450th birthday festivities and celebrations.It all begins with the “cradle to grave” procession, with a 20-foot-tall moving marionette of Lady Godiva and a horse-drawn carriage pulling a giant birthday cake. After the parade, a People’s Pageant takes the same route to lay flowers at Shakespeare’s gravesite.All weekend there will be performances of his plays, and they take many forms, from the two-hour condensed version of all his works to the full presentation of Henry IV, Parts I and II, at the RSC Theatre.Other highlights include performances by the Stratford Concert Band, the 1623 Theatre Company, the Stratford Renaissance dance group and members from Stratford Music Centre. Activities at the Birthplace Trust locations include events like Hands Across the World at New Place gardens, where visitors can add their handprint to the improvements planned for New Place, and a Knights and Nymphs Toddlers Party at Hall’s Croft, where children can win prizes for the best costume. Birthday cake will be in abundance and offered at all five locations.Out-of-townerIf you can’t make it all the way to Stratford-upon-Avon, a trip to the Globe Theatre in London may do the trick. Featuring the only thatch roof in the city of London, the theater offers tours in addition to an exhibition and provides a quaint glimpse of life in 16th-century London and of the theater’s role as the heart of the notorious entertainment district.If you have time, consider squeezing in a performance in this replica of the playhouses where Shakespeare’s works were firstperformed. The official 2014 season begins Wednesday with Hamlet and includes Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear.Even folks who aren’t familiar with or huge fans of Shakespeare’s many plays and sonnets will find it difficult not to appreciate his impressive contributions, among them, the creation of more than 1,700 words in the English language and a multitude of colorful, familiar phrases, like “All that glitters is not gold,” and “Such stuff as dreams are made on.”
If you go
• Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust: To get the most for your money, buy the Five House Pass, which includes all five attractions and entry to Shakespeare’s grave; 23.90 pounds (about $40). If you only have a few hours, try the Birthplace Pass, which includes Hall’s Croft, New Place and Nash’s House, and Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Grave; 15.90 pounds ($26). Buy online and save 10 percent. www.shakespeare.org.uk.
• Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens: Explore the same 9 acres of gardens and woodland walks that were home to Shakespeare’s bride. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from March 17 to Nov. 2. Admission is 9.50 pounds ($16).
• Hall’s Croft: See the elegant Tudor home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from March 17 to Nov. 2. Entry included in Five House Pass and Birthplace Pass.
• Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare is buried in the sanctuary of this 13th-century church on the banks of the River Avon. Open year-round. Entry to Shakespeare’s grave costs 2 pounds and is included in Five House Pass and Birthplace Pass.
• Mary Arden’s Farm: Visit the family farm where Shakespeare’s mother grew up. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from March 17 to Nov. 2. 12.50 pounds ($21).
• New Place and Nash’s House: Explore Nash’s House and the site and gardens of New Place — the grand home Shakespeare purchased as a successful playwright. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from March 17 to Nov. 2. Entry included in Five House Pass and Shakespeare Birthplace Pass.
• Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre: Enjoy a play in the theatre or go to the top of the tower to see 20 miles of a picturesque English town. RSC Tower tour open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily all year, but may be closed around performances. Tour prices vary. www.rsc.org.uk.
• Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Transport yourself to the 16th century with an exhibition and tour at The Globe Theatre on the river Thames. Its year-round exhibition is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily, and the tour schedule is 9:30-5 p.m. Monday, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Sunday. Exhibition and tour admission 13.50 pounds ($23). www.shakespearesglobe.com.
Celebrate Shakespeare all year
If you can’t make it for the April 26-27 celebration in Stratford-upon-Avon, fret not. Here are some year-round offerings to help you commemorate the anniversary and learn about Tudor England on your own schedule.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: Artists and enthusiasts are invited to capture the beauty of the cottage and gardens as they change between the seasons, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 26, Sept. 25 and Dec. 18.
Mary Arden’s Farm: Greet the Spring with traditional maypole dancing on May Day, May 1. The Tudor Wedding Festival puts out a welcome mat May 24-26 with events like a traditional Tudor Hand Fasting Ceremony.
New Place and Nash’s House: Visitors can create their very own theatrical Shakespearean masks, May 24-June 1.
Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre: Take in a play in Shakespeare’s hometown and see Henry IV, Parts I and II, through Sept. 6; The Two Gentlemen of Verona, July 19-Sept. 3; Love’s Labour’s Lost, Sept. 23-27; and Much Ado About Nothing (also called Love’s Labour’s Won), Oct. 3-4. Ticket prices begin at 12 pounds (about $20).
River Festival: Summer fun is plentiful July 5-6 on the River Avon, with music, narrow boats, craft stalls, an illuminated boat parade and fireworks. www.stratfordriverfestival.co.uk.
Globe Theatre: Performances held here throughout the year include three starting this month: Hamlet, which opens this week, then launches a two-year tour to every country in the world; Titus Andronicus, on stage Thursday-July 13; and Much Ado About Nothing, with performances April 28-May 19. Starting in May, the Globe Theatre presents All’s Well that Ends Well, May 5-10; Antony and Cleopatra, May 17-Aug. 24; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, June 2-7; and Julius Caesar, June 20-Oct. 11. A late-summer and fall schedule includes King Lear, Aug. 6-23, and The Comedy of Errors, Aug. 30-Oct. 12. Tickets prices range from 5 pounds ($9) for standing spaces to 15 to 42 pounds ($25-$64) for seats.