STARTFORD-UPON-AVON (AFP) - William Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon leads the global celebrations to mark 400 years since the playwright's death on Saturday (April 23), with enough star-studded plays, concerts and parades to bring the town to a standstill.
Top British actors including Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian McKellen will perform some of the bard's most famous scenes at the central English town's Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, will attend the "Shakespeare Live!" show, which will also be broadcast on television in Britain and worldwide by the BBC, and beamed to cinemas around Europe.
London will also join in the festivities, with Shakespeare's Globe theatre - famed for its productions full of detail from the Bard's era - hosting the final performance of a "Hamlet" world tour which has taken place in 195 countries.
Some 37 short films - one for each of Shakespeare's plays - featuring stars like Dominic West and Gemma Arterton will also be shown on giant screens snaking along the River Thames.
Mr Dominic Dromgoole, outgoing artistic director of the Globe, put Shakespeare's timeless appeal down to "fantastic stories that sit at the heart of human experience in all forms".
"He's a great wit, a great entertainer and his plays are generous - they make you feel more and understand more," he told AFP.
Stratford, where Shakespeare was born and died, kicks off the day's merriment with a parade of performers wearing pantaloons, ruffs and codpieces through its historic streets, ending at his burial site.
Visitors, performers and literature buffs from around the world will descend on the sleepy market town for a day of theatre, dancing, fireworks, music.
Although celebrations are held every year at this time to commemorate Shakespeare's life, organisers are this year promising something extra-special.
"It will be a spectacle like nothing we have seen before in the history of these precious, traditional celebrations," said town clerk Sarah Summers.
"It will be full of music, colour and action."
Focal points for the celebrations include Shakespeare's family home, where it is assumed he was born in 1564, and the Holy Trinity Church, where he was buried.
The schoolroom where Shakespeare is believed to have learned his craft, owned by King Edward VI School, will be permanently opened to visitors on Saturday following a £1.8 million (S$3.5 million) renovation.
Children currently studying at the school will carry a quill to the Globe in London by cycling, rowing, and running the 165km journey.
From Warsaw, to Dubai and Las Vegas, Shakespeare's plays will also be playing to packed houses to mark the occasion, highlighting the international appeal of the English language's leading playwright.
"Everyone knows about 'Romeo and Juliet', about 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear'. Those iconic shapes speak to everyone because they are embedded in human culture," Mr Dromgoole said, just before welcoming the "Hamlet" cast back from a tour which included a stop in Sudan.
"I don't think we've scratched the surface of how much Shakespeare can do in the world."