British venues gear up for 1999 Shakespeare season

NEW YORK -- Shakespeare lovers are gearing up for another season of the Bard's works as London's Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon ready their summer productions.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is a replica of the original Globe, which opened 400 years ago. Many of Shakespeare's plays were performed there for the first time.

The 1989 discovery of the foundations of the original Globe helped with the construction plans of the new theater, which was built using the crafts, techniques and materials of Tudor times.

This year's season in the open-roofed theater (there are seats in three covered galleries and standing room in the open air in front of the stage) runs from May 13 to Sept. 24 and includes performances of "The Comedy of Errors," as well as all-male productions (just as they were in Shakespeare's day) of "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra."

Shakespeare's early and later life can be traced in some of the Elizabethan buildings still standing in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon, in central England. He was born in a house there on Henley Street and is buried at nearby Holy Trinity Church.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) produces its summer festival season in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, on the banks of the River Avon. The season opens March 17 and continues to Oct. 9. The repertory season features productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Othello," "Antony and Cleopatra" and "Timon of Athens."

The London home of the RSC is the Barbican Theatre in the financial district, and the current season, which ends May 6, includes "The Merchant of Venice," "The Tempest," "Measure for Measure" and "The Winter's Tale."

Among other buildings opened to visitors in Stratford-Upon-Avon are Nash's House, a half-timbered home inherited by Shakespeare's grand-daughter Elizabeth Hall from her first husband, Thomas Nash. It contains a museum of the town's history.

From Nash's House, visitors can enter a garden planted on the foundations of New Place, a late 15th century house bought by Shakespeare in 1597 and to which he retired in 1611, five years before he died.

Visitors can also see the thatched-roofed cottage home of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, in the village (now suburb) of Shottery, a mile from the town center, and the farmhouse where his mother was born, in the village of Wilmcote.

All of these places can be reached by hopping on and off a sightseeing bus operated at regular intervals throughout the day by a local travel company called Guide Friday. Guide Friday can be reached at (011) 44-1789 294-466.

Tickets to RSC productions and to performances at the new Globe Theatre can be booked through Globaltickets, (800) 223-6108; Keith Prowse, (800) 669-8687, and Ticketmaster, (800) 775-2525.

Details of these and other Shakespeare productions can be found in a monthly guide to London shows, exhibitions, events and sightseeing called London Planner, available free from the British Tourist Authority.

The BTA also has a brochure for Shakespeare lovers called Shakespeare Theatre in Britain. For free copies of either publication, call the BTA at (800) 462-2748 or visit its Web site at www.usagateway.visitbritain.com.

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