It was an event that mixed solemnity, pomp, royalty and quite a bit of low farce.

William Shakespeare probably would have approved.

Thousands gathered in Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday to celebrate the death of Britain's most famous writer - and his birthday too.

Tributes were led by the Prince of Wales, who, before his appearance on the Stratford stage, laid a wreath on the grave of the playwright in Holy Trinity Church, and had a tour of New Place, where Shakespeare spent the last 19 years of his life and wrote some of his most famous works.

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Now an archaeological site, in the process of being turned into a garden and visitor centre, Prince Charles inspected some of the finds: medieval dice, dominos and a thimble that may have been used by Shakespeare's father, who was a leather worker. Or, at least, that is the optimistic interpretation of the curators.

His wreath was made out of generous sprigs of rosemary - reference to Ophelia's final act of handing out the herb, "for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember". It was the last of thousands of floral tributes to be laid in the church and was accompanied by a prayer from the vicar.

As is customary on St George's Day, the school children and dignitaries of Stratford processed through the town to lay spring flowers on the grave of Shakespeare, who was born and died on April 23.