Shakespeare-fan King Charles celebrates 400 years since the first Folio

FILE PHOTO: Shakespeare's First Folio on display at Christies in London
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By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - King Charles will mark 400 years since William Shakespeare's plays were published in collective form on Tuesday, bringing actors and directors together to celebrate his love for the bard and a book hailed as one of the most important in English literature.

It was to Shakespeare who Charles turned in his first speech as king, the day after his mother Queen Elizabeth died, quoting from Hamlet to round off his tribute to her devotion and duty: "May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest".

At a gathering hosted by Charles and his wife Queen Camilla at Windsor Castle, to celebrate the first Folio, actors will perform extracts from Julius Caesar and The Tempest, as the King, now 10 months into his reign, promotes some of the causes close to his heart.

While his mother's passion was horse racing, Charles's interests are more cultural and environmental, and Britain's theatres will hope to benefit from his long-standing support for the arts.

Charles's interest in Shakespeare dates back to boarding school when he played the title role in Macbeth in 1965.

His enthusiasm was best captured in 2016, when he took part in a Hamlet skit alongside heavyweight actors such as Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant, in an event to mark 400 years since the playwright's death.

Without the Folio, the name given to the collection of the playwright's "Comedies, Histories & Tragedies" printed in 1623, Macbeth and 17 other plays would have been lost.

Compiled by Shakespeare's friends seven years after his death, the Folio contained plays which had never before been published. A copy of it will be on display at the event.

ROYAL STRUGGLES

The bard's plays, with their musings on royal struggles including "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" from Henry IV, Part II - struck a chord with Charles and a Shakespearian reference is never far away.

Now he is sovereign, Charles, 74, wants to shape a monarchy fit for the future. Championing the melodious, poetic words of Shakespeare is one way to unite people from the tapestry of different cultures which make up modern-day Britain.

He has been president of the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1991. A theatre and learning charity, it aims to broaden access to the bard by bringing his plays into schools.

At the Windsor Castle reception on Tuesday, actors will perform including Simon Russell Beale and Harriet Walter, two of Britain's greatest stage actors.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)