By Roberta Rampton and Sarah Young
US President Barack Obama marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday by visiting the Globe theatre for a 10-minute performance of a scene from Hamlet, where the Danish prince poses the question: “To be or not to be”.
The Globe, with its timbered, white-washed curved-walls, is London’s best-loved monument to the Bard, famous for its open-air performances of the works of England’s greatest playwright.
With the sun illuminating the theatre’s wooden stage through the open roof, Obama was treated to a short private performance and entertained by a troupe of actors playing violins, mandolins, an accordion and penny whistles.
“That was wonderful. I don’t want it to stop,” Obama said of the tale of the melancholy prince before shaking hands with the actors.
The visit was something of a pilgrimage for the 44th President of the United States who has named Shakespeare’s tragedies as among the top three books that have inspired him.
According to a 2008 interview he gave to Rolling Stone, the other two works were Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” and Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
In 2011, he quoted from one of those Shakespeare tragedies, Richard II, as he toasted Queen Elizabeth II: “To this blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England.”
The Globe, the only building in London with permission to have a thatched roof, opened in 1997 and is a replica of the original theatre which was situated a few hundred yards from today’s Globe. That theatre, partly-owned by Shakespeare, burned to the ground in 1613.
The president might have caught a glimpse of some of the other 400th anniversary celebrations as he arrived at the Globe, which has been surrounded by screens along the river that are showing short films of each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.
The celebrations of the Bard’s life will culminate in the full performance of Hamlet at the Globe later on Saturday, played by actors who return to London after a two-year tour that has taken in 189 countries.
“Shakespeare’s genius captivated and changed the world and men and women across England continue to do that today,” Prime Minister David Cameron said.
“His words about this nation ‘this precious stone set in the silver sea’ remain as potent as the day he wrote them,” Cameron said, quoting from Richard II.