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Henry IV
Photograph: Richard TermineHenry IV

What to do for Shakespeare’s 452nd birthday (and 400th anniversary of his death)

Written by
David Cote

For theater fans, April means the crush of Broadway shows opening in time for Tony Award consideration, but it also signals the date on which William Shakespeare was born and died—52 years later. While the exact date of his birth remains a matter of dispute, most agree that the Swan of Avon passed away on April 23, 1616, leaving behind one of the greatest bodies of work the stage—and the world—has ever seen. This year marks the 400th anniversary of his death. There will be tributes and performances around the world, and we’ve rounded up local events you can attend.

King and Country: Shakespeare's Great Cycle of Kings
The best way to appreciate Shakespeare is to see the work, and it’s hard to beat this four-play epic about the fall of Richard II, the rise and death of Henry IV, and the ultimate triumph of Henry V (formerly bad-boy Prince Hal). The Royal Shakespeare Company is in residence at the BAM Harvey until May 1, and the productions are outstanding (read my five-star review). David Tennant is a marvelous Richard II (those glorious speeches!) but Antony Sher (pictured above) is giving a Falstaff for the ages. If you can only see one or two, the Henry IVs are the best (both play on Apr 23), but the whole cycle is an unforgettable immersion.

Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam
Of course the Bard’s immortal reputation rests on more than the comedies, tragedies and histories—his 154 sonnets form an unparalleled poetic survey of love in all its shades of wonder, joy and despair. Now the sixth annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam will take place on Apr 22 at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park (rain or shine). The readings take place from 1pm to 4pm and it’s free. Past talent has included Stacy Keach, Dana Ivey, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders and more. This year, wags from Something Rotten! will make a special appearance.

Shakespeare Birthday Bash & Deaths of Shakespeare
On Apr 22 you could make a full day of Shakespeare in Bryant Park, courtesy of the Drilling Company. First, starting at 12:30pm, the group observes the birth of the Bard with specially commissioned and performances all around the park. There will be an open mic for anyone lunching alfresco, so they can “speak the speech” as Shakespeare intended. Then from 6:30 to 8:30 that evening, the Drilling Company ensemble performs famous deaths from Shakespeare’s plays (Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar and more). The bloody histrionics will be followed by a jazz procession led by the Jambalaya Brass Band.

Raise a toast to Will Shakespeare
Having a drink (or five) is sometimes the best way to honor the deceased, and a couple events encourage audiences to mix booze and the Bard. There’s Drunk Shakespeare at the Lounge at Roy Arias Stages, in which tipsy thespians make a liquored-up hash of Macbeth. There are 8pm and 10pm show on both Apr 22 and 23; expect copious toasts in honor of Will. Downtown at the Slipper Room, Shotspeare returns. This cast downs shot after shot of Shakespeare Vodka (that’s actually a thing) and enacts the plot of Romeo and Juliet. Shotspeare plays on Monday nights at 10pm starting Apr 11.

First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare
If you’re busy in April, wait till June to fly your Shakespeare Freak Flag. The New-York Historical Society will have a copy of the 1623 First Folio, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library from June 7 to July 17. The Folio was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and only about 750 were printed. To mark the occasion, Theatre for a New Audience will lead a daylong program of workshops and performances on June 13 from 10am to 3pm. The event is free but you have to reserve (contact Sharon Dunn at or 212-485-9292).

Shakespeare in the Park
The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park roundup this summer includes an all-female Taming of the Shrew and a rare mounting of the bitterly satirical wartime drama Troilus & Cressida, two events for which we’ll happily brave rain or ants. This week the Public announced the casting for Shrew, and it’s a jaw-dropping group of ladies: In addition to the previously announced Janet McTeer as Petruchio and Cush Jumbo as Katherina, the ensemble features Candy Buckley, Donna Lynne Champlin, Judy Gold, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Anne L. Nathan and Leenya Rideout, among others. Shrew runs May 24 to June 26 and Troilus runs July 19 through August 14.

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