by Sarah Rodrigues, The Telegraph, April 23, 2019
The exact date of Shakespeare’s birthday is not known, but it’s observed annually on April 23rd (incidentally also the date on which he died, as well as St George’s Day). Of course, you could celebrate by chatting with a skull or donning an ass’s head - but if you want to really bring the Bard to life, here’s where to go.
1. Juliet’s Balcony, Verona, Italy
Romeo & Juliet are hardly the poster kids for successful romance, but the stone balcony of this 13th century house, a former inn now known as Casa di Giulietta, is one of Verona’s biggest attractions, with attendant problems of graffitied messages of love, hope and sentimentality. Kids will probably chortle at the tradition of rubbing the right breast of the Juliet statue in the courtyard, especially on knowing that the breast of the original statue was so vigorously fondled that it’s now in a museum.
2. Kronborg Castle, Denmark
Immortalised as Elsinore in Hamlet and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, the impressive Kronborg Castle makes an easy day trip from Copenhagen. Time your visit for the summer and there are open air Shakespearean performances to be enjoyed, as well as the immersive (and free for under 18s) experience of Hamlet Live, complete with murdered king haunting the castle’s warren of underground passages. At other times throughout the year, take a guided tour of the castle with Hamlet’s pal Horatio.
3. The Globe Theatre, London
Impress special-effects-loving youngsters with the news that an early incarnation of the Globe burned down after a staged cannon incident, during a 1613 performance of Henry VIII. Swiftly rebuilt and later shut down by Puritans, the Globe didn’t reopen, with its current open-air roof, until 1997. Guided tours are available year-round but for a more authentic experience pick up one of the 700 standing room tickets available at £5 for each performance. At least these days you can purchase ice cream to sweeten the deal.
4. The Macbeth Trail, Scotland
Ambitious but, ultimately, murderous - how typical that an appealing Shakespearean play flies smack in the face of aspirational parenting. Macbeth, unlike some of the Bard’s characters, actually existed; even so, his ‘trail’ comprises scattered locations, so is best not walked. The original 11th century Inverness Castle, where he reportedly murdered Duncan, was destroyed long ago, but the current incarnation, built in 1836, stands in the same place. It’s largely closed to the public, but visitors can ascend the north tower for 360-degree views of the surrounding area. Macbeth’s Stone, where he is believed to have been executed in 1057, is another draw card - and the heath around Forres, where the three witches encounter is said to have taken place, is pure gold for spook-eager children.
5. The site of the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome
One hardly needs a reason to visit Rome, especially with children: it’s history brought to life in a way that few other places can lay claim to. The bloody knifing of the Roman politician (Et tu, Brute?!) always strikes a chord with young people, enthralled by and fearful of disloyal friends as they are; they’ll probably also like the fact that the site of the stabbing - within the Largo di Torre Argentina - is now populated by nothing more bloodthirsty than a swarms of stray cats.
6. Windsor, England
Romantic jealousy, scheming women and laundry-basket shenanigans - The Merry Wives of Windsor is a great laugh for families. It’s not as if there isn’t plenty to occupy you on a family day out in Windsor anyway (swerve Legoland if you’re aiming for some historical authenticism…) but you can also grab a bite at the Harte & Garter Hotel, which features in the play as The Garter Inn. The menu is too refined to be particularly Falstaffian, but a walk up the stairs offers a look at lovely stained glass windows depicting characters from the play.
7. Athens, Greece
Sadly, you won’t find the magical woodland of a Midsummer Night’s Dream just beyond this ancient city’s limits, but its wild enchantment, to which the young lovers flee, functions to throw the orderliness and intransigence of ancient Athens into sharper relief. Few places embody this ‘civilised’ state as well as the Parthenon, which towers above the city in a mass of linear forms and enduring structures. The moon is used to great symbolic effect in the play so, if possible, make your visit on the midsummer full moon evening, with free admission and late opening at many Athenian sites.
8. Vienna, Austria
Vienna seems to be a city that Shakespeare associates with corruption and iniquity; as well as the sexual depravity and lawlessness in Measure for Measure, he also shifts the Murder of Gonzago, the ‘play within the play’ that mirrors the murder of the King in Hamlet, from Italy to Vienna. Best to skip the vice on a family visit - stay at the guesthouse at the ancient nunnery of Schottenstift in a nod to the virtuous Isabella and keep your sins to those of a gluttonous nature at one of Vienna’s excellent cafes and pastry shops.
9. The Forest of Arden
As is often the way in Shakespeare, the role of woodland in As You Like It is to provide a space for the collision of fantasy and reality, playing with roles and upending social constructs. While some believe that the play’s Forest of Arden is the forest that once surrounded Shakespeare’s native Stratford-upon-Avon, others think it refers to the French Forest of Ardennes. Since the former scarcely exists any longer, heading to this northern region of France, with its tree-dense and rolling landscape - so perfect for family-friendly walking and cycling holidays - seems a much better idea.
What Shakespearean destination list would be complete without mention of the medieval market town in Warwickshire in which The Bard was born and is buried? You can visit the house he was born in, the school at which he was educated, the cottage in which his wife, Anne Hathaway, lived before their marriage and Holy Trinity Church, where he was laid to rest. Home of the Royal Shakespeare Society, there are, naturally enough, various theatrical performances held throughout the year, with large scale birthday celebrations and processions held each April.