THE Bard is back where he has always belonged – centre-stage.

Celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death yesterday saw the most powerful leader of the modern world, US President Barack Obama, paying homage to the playwright and poet who made his name chronicling the lives of the most powerful leaders of the classical and medieval world.

Obama, as part of his UK tour, dropped into the Globe theatre for a private performance of a scene from Hamlet, where the Danish prince poses one of the most quoted lines – and best-known metaphysical question – ever written: “To be or not to be?”

The Globe, with its timbered, white-washed curved walls, is a monument to the Bard, famous for its open-air performances of the works of the playwright.With the sun illuminating the theatre’s wooden stage through the open roof, Obama was treated to a short performance and entertained by a troupe playing mandolins, accordions and penny whistles.

“That was wonderful. I don’t want it to stop,” Obama said of the scene from the tale of the melancholy prince.

As the world marks 400 years since the passing of William Shakespeare, what will be most striking in the eyes of many is that the world has yet to produce a figure whose work has rivalled that of the great Bard.

It is still almost impossible to find universal agreement on Shakespeare in terms of what he intended to say and who he was really writing for.

But this weekend all will be united in their celebration of the man who gave the world Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

In London 37 screens on a 2.5 mile route between Westminster and Tower Bridge will play 10-minute Shakespeare films featuring globally-renowned actors in international locations, with Cleopatra performed in front of the Pyramids and Hamlet on the rocks of Elsinore.

In Scotland, celebrations include the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh hosting the exhibition Playing Shakespeare, focusing on iconic performances from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Vivien Leigh and Maggie Smith.

Thousands of well-wishers from around the world gathered at Shakespeare’s birthplace yesterday. Townsfolk from Stratford-upon-Avon said they wanted to welcome “the world and his wife” to celebrate their most famous son.

A parade through the town was attended by more than 10,000 people paying homage to the Bard, who was born and died on April 23. The parade featured local schoolchildren, musicians and performers, and a centrepiece ceremony with the unfurling of a flag bearing the writer’s image.

BBC 2 turned over its schedule to the Bard last night with Shakespeare Live! David Tennant hosted the televised anniversary party from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, with guests including Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Joseph Fiennes.

Tonight BBC4’s Arena strand provides a companion piece at 9pm, with All The World’s A Screen, a history of Shakespeare on film. As we celebrate the great man’s life, the Sunday Herald has brought together leading Scottish authorities on the writer to try to cast light on the unanswered questions surrounding his legacy.


ARGUABLY his greatest work, Macbeth – the Scottish Play – was written for England’s new Scottish king, James I. King James, of course, was a great lover of drama and poetry, and was also obsessed with witches and assassination – not to mention the fact the new king believed he was a direct descendent of Banquo. Clearly, then, Shakespeare knew how to please his new master.

James Loxley, a professor of early modern literature at the University of Edinburgh, said the ongoing popularity of the production, including last year’s adaptation starring Michael Fassbender, left, was largely due to it being one of the shorter works, as well as its “punchy” and “intense” style.

He said: “Macbeth is often a favourite as it’s shorter than the others. It’s punchy, quick and intense. The Scottish Play would not have been written had it not been for King James. In Macbeth, Scotland is taken seriously and not marked out as different. Scots become more complicated characters.”

However, Loxley said it was Macbeth that meant there was a distinctively Scottish Shakespeare. He added: “There is a unique approach to Scottish Shakespeare and Scottish culture. Scotland understands Shakespeare and Shakespeare understands Scotland.”

Professor Willy Maley, author of the seminal book Shakespeare And Scotland, said now is a perfect time for Scots to “raise a glass” to the Bard.

Maley said the upheavals Shakespeare lived through with the creation of the Union display striking similarities to the present day. He said: “We’re seeing the kind of changes he lived through, with all the debates and the Act of Union. Shakespeare is so rich that his work is able to transcend so many of these concerns.

“Shakespeare’s greatest work was written with an eye on Scotland,” he said, but added: “Shakespeare goes across the Border. That’s one of Shakespeare’s great strengths.”


The dispute over who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays has raged for more than 100 years. Those who argue that he did not write the works attributed to him are criticised for promoting snob theories about the Bard.

Such critics have asked how a boy with a grammar-school education could have known courts and palaces and the secrets of princely power.

It has been suggested that Elizabethan poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, left, did not die in Deptford on May 30, 1593, as records state, but rather that his death was faked and he was in fact the author of Shakespeare’s poems and plays.

However, Andrew Murphy, a professor in Shakespeare studies at the University of St Andrews, said such theories were often used to promote a fantasy image of Shakespeare. He said: “It’s a kind of snobbery against this guy from Stratford. But we know the education he received in grammar school would have seen him learning Latin and French.”