'Shakespeare 400' hits Ottawa, and the play's not the only thing

The University of Ottawa is organizing 400 events to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death and celebrate the Bard's enduring influence.

400 events planned to mark anniversary of the Bard's death

The University of Ottawa is planning 400 separate events to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, and to celebrate the Bard's enduring influence. (Canadian Press)

Let's party like its 1616! It's time to set the stage for Shakespeare 400.

Puppets, pub crawls, music, a symposium, a gala, Alec Guinness's sword ... they'll all play a role as Ottawa prepares to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

Has there ever lived an artist with a keener eye for what haunts the human heart? Who better understood the forces that drive acts of passion, betrayal, jealousy and the 'slings and arrows' of unabashed love? Who has had such a profound influence on our language and culture? 

Four centuries after his death, William Shakespeare's influence is undiminished. His plays are the most performed, most translated of all time. On movie screens, smart phones, stages and classrooms around the world, his work still speaks to us.

"I think he is such a rich artist, there's so much, that everyone has their own Shakespeare," said Irene Makaryk, a professor at the University of Ottawa. "He looks into people's hearts. He's able to inhabit so many different characters, every spectrum of human experience."

400 ways to celebrate the Bard

Beginning in January, Ottawa will revel in bardolatry, celebrating the ongoing influence of Shakespeare and his impact on the arts in Canada. The University of Ottawa has set itself the ambitious goal of inspiring 400 events in every artistic disciplines, with a major symposium planned for April — the month of the Bard's birth and death.

Highlights include a recital of new musical works inspired by the Bard, a mock trial of Hamlet and an exhibition showcasing the theatrical history of Shakespeare in Canada, including the sword Alex Guinness swung in Richard III when he first performed at the then-fledgling Stratford Festival.
A detail of the newly discovered portrait of William Shakespeare, presented by the Shakespeare Birthplace trust, is seen in central London, Monday March 9, 2009. There are very few likenesses of Shakespeare, who died in 1616. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Canadian Press)

Opening gala

Canadian actors Paul Gross and Martha Burns will headline an evening of performance and music at the University of Ottawa's gala launch of Shakespeare 400. The husband and wife duo will act out scenes from The Taming of the Shrew and Henry V, followed by a medley of melodies inspired by Shakespeare — everything from show tunes to Elizabethan ballads, performed by the University's School of Music alumni.

CBC Radio's resident Puck, Alan Neal, will play host.

The gala takes place Saturday, Jan. 23, in Freiman Hall at Pérez Hall on the University of Ottawa campus.

Twelfth Night at the NAC

Madcap shenanigans, crazed cross-dressing and loopy love triangles. Twelfth Night endures as one of the Bard's most popular romantic comedies. Throw in the ingenious re-imagining of Calgary's Old Trout Puppet Workshop, which has been toiling behind the scenes to create the sets, props and costumes, and the National Arts Centre's upcoming reinvention of this play's the thing. 

The NAC ensemble performs Twelfth Night Jan. 20  to Feb. 6.

Shakespeare on the silver screen

Check out the varied film adaptations of Shakespeare's tales at the ByTowne Cinema running throughout January and February.

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star as the murderous marrieds in the latest bloody version of Macbeth. Sunny California is the setting for Joss Whedon's contemporary adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing

Legendary director Akira Kurosawa adapted King Lear, setting the story in 16th century Japan in his classic Ran. And fans of Star Trek and Doctor Who can munch popcorn while watching David Tennant and Patrick Stewart face off in the Royal Shakespeare Company's version of Hamlet.