The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Shakespeare Festival

Category: Theatre

In 1742 Charles Macklin and David Garrick came to New Place (house built on the site of Shakespeare’s own house) and sat in Shakespeare’s garden under the famous mulberry tree that Shakespeare is said to have planted with his own hands. It is evidently after this that Garrick decided to “take Shakespeare into partnership’’, as it was ‘rather wittily put, and organise the Stratford jubilee of 1769.

The Stratford jubilee of 1769 had no particular chronological significance but it was to become the prelude to all the festivals that followed. A wooden amphitheatre was built, two wagons arrived with fireworks. The neighbouring villages and towns were crammed with visitors.

Medals were issued incopper, silver, or gold, with Shakespeare’s likenesson oneside and David Garrick on the other. There was ringing of bells, firing of cannon (at 5 in the morning), breakfast in the Town Hall, speeches, Oratoria in church. And soon for three days. Although not a single play of Shakespeare’s was actually performed, objectively, Garrick had done more to resurrect Shakespeare than any other man of his time.

In 1864 (the Tercentenary Festival) the Stratfordians decided to out-do Garrick. Stratford at last had a theatre of its own. It was decided to produce Shakespeare’s plays. The event was remarkable in the light of the present day events because the first foreign representatives were present. A German delegation travelled to Stratford with an address bearing the name of Goethe House. Russia sent two telegrams stating that the University of Moscow was publicly celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birthday of the great genius and congratulating his countrymen on the occasion.

Now in the Festival season from April to September people flock to Stratford and pack its theatre. Embassies and ministries are sent tickets and invitations to visit the theatre. Eminent strangers are enterained to luncheon. Speeches are broadcast. At night comes the birthday play. On the 23rd of April — the Bardic Birthday — representatives of all nations walk from the theatre and stand under their national tlag in Bridge Street. A procession goes to the Birthplace, then joins the boys at the Grammar School, and with the boys leading the way makes its way to the poet’s tomb in the Church.

With the awakening of interest in Shakespeare came the interest in Stratford itself and all the places associated with the name of the great Bard. The most frequented became the Birthplace — the house where Shakespeare is said to have been born. It stands in Henley Street. There is no need to specify whose Birthplace it is because everything in Stratiord begins and ends with Shakespeare.

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