Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations History

Every year a unique event takes place in Stratford-upon- Avon to mark the birth of the world’s greatest playwright. The Birthday Celebrations are a tradition going back nearly 200 years and are held on the weekend closest to William Shakespeare’s birthday.

The birthday weekend brings together performers, artists, the local community and ambassadors from around the world in a vibrant celebration of the life and works of William Shakespeare. During the two day event, the town’s streets overflow with music, pageantry and drama and you are invited to enjoy a packed programme of special activities and great days out at the five Shakespeare houses.

For photographic highlights of Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations held in previous years, click here.

Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations Timeline:

  • 1564

    26 April William Shakespeare is baptised which custom of the time suggests he is born just before on 23 April

  • 1616

    23 April Shakespeare dies in Stratford-upon-Avon

  • 1650s

    Publication of Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire which praises Shakespeare and describes his tomb in Holy Trinity Church

  • 1650 onwards

    Visitors start travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s place of birth

  • 1769

    September 6-8 David Garrick’s Jubilee held in Stratford, the first celebration anywhere in the world of Shakespeare’s life.

  • 1816

    April 23 Celebrations in Stratford take place on Shakespeare’s birthday

  • 1824

    The foundation of Stratford’s Shakespeare Club, the oldest surviving such Club in the world, formed in order to organise celebrations for Shakespeare’s Birthday.
    The Shakespeare Club marks the birthday itself (23rd April) with a procession to Holy Trinity Church and a ceremonial dinner.

  • 1826

    First parade of costumed characters, much enlarged in 1827 and 1830.

  • 1827

    The Birthday celebrations were spread over three days and included the laying of the foundation stone of the first permanent theatre in the town.

  • 1835

    The Shakespeare Club founded the Shakespeare Monumental committee with the aim of restoring the graves in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church

  • 1847

    The purchase of Shakespeare’s Birthplace for the nation.

  • 1864

    The Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth, and the most elaborate celebration of his birthday since Garrick, lasting for over a week.

  • 1877

    April 23 the laying of the foundation stone for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre

  • 1879

    April 23 The grand opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and the beginning of regular performances to mark Shakespeare’s Birthday.

  • 1893

    The boys of King Edward VI School – Shakespeare’s former school – parade to lay a formal wreath at Shakespeare’s grave, which becomes an annual event. Over the years the tradition grows to include the flag unfurling ceremony and wearing rosemary for remembrance.

  • 1896

    23 April Thomas F Bayard, the American Ambassador, unveiled the American window in Holy Trinity Church as part of the Birthday Celebrations. The link with the Court of St James is established.

  • 1904

    The procession from the Town Hall to Holy Trinity Church included the boys from Shakespeare’s School and members of the public were invited to join in bearing offerings of flowers.

  • 1907

    More elaborate Birthday celebrations organised by a large committee, including the flying of national flags. The procession for the first time paraded from Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Holy Trinity Church.

  • 1916

    The tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death.

  • 1923

    The tercentenary of the publication of the First Folio. The Birthday celebrations were filmed for the first time.

  • 1926

    The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre burned down.

  • 1932

    23 April The new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was opened by the Prince of Wales.

  • 1951

    The Birthday Celebrations were jointly organised by Stratford Borough Council, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and the Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

  • 1964

    Shakespeare’s 400th birthday and an unforgettable anniversary for Stratford

  • 1985

    Anti-apartheid protesters campaigned against the flying of the South African flag.

  • 2014

    Shakespeare’s 450th birthday – Stratford’s celebrations comprised a full weekend of entertainment, observing all the important traditions whilst incorporating new and exciting features