Get thee to a playhouse. Shakespeare’s spirited romantic comedies and riveting tragedies are as popular today as they were 400 years ago when he entertained London theatergoers, proving the prediction of his friend and fellow playwright Ben Johnson: “He was not of an age, but for all time.”

Summer is the best time to catch a Shakespeare production, when outdoor venues open for play watching al fresco. Here are seven atmospheric
places to take in a show. If none of them are in your neighborhood, check out the Shakespeare Foundation’s listing of more than 300 festivals in 48 states and 14 countries around the world — all devoted to the timeless works of the Bard.

Shakespeare’s Globe, London
A stray cannonball spark ignited the thatched roof of the original Globe during a production of Henry VIII in 1613, destroying the famed theatre. The new venue (above left) has been faithfully restored to its Tudor-style glory on the south bank of the River Thames. Modern-day “groundlings” (right), much like their counterparts 400 years ago, can pay a mere pittance (then just a penny, today $10) to stand in the pit surrounding the stage during performances. Those with weary legs can watch the action unfold from the wooden balcony stalls in the O-shaped amphitheatre.

The line-up (plays run through the dates listed): Hamlet (July 9), All’s Well that Ends Well (August 21), As You Like It (August 26), Much
Ado About Nothing
(October 1)

Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
Based in the Bard’s picturesque hometown along the River Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Along with a stellar schedule of performances, other festivities being held to mark the milestone include the exhibition “A History of the RSC in 50 Objects” (through December 31), featuring items like a costume worn by Sir Ian McKellen in a 1976 production of Macbeth.

The line-up: The Merchant of Venice starring Patrick Stewart (October 4), Macbeth (October 6), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (July 29 – November 5), Measure for Measure (November 17 – March 10, 2012), The Taming of the Shrew (January 19 – February 18, 2012)

Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford,  Ontario
Set on its own River Avon, this town of ultimate Bard buffs in eastern Canada boasts the largest classical repertory theatre in North America.
Stroll the Shakespeare Gardens after taking in one of the plays offered at the Festival’s four theatres. The weekend of September 30 – October 2, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is participating in the nationwide “Culture Days” program with  hands-on activities and behind-the-scenes events.

The line-up: Richard III (September 25), The Merry Wives of Windsor (May 30 – October 14), Titus Andronicus (June 23 – September 24), Twelfth Night (June 26 – October 28),

The Old Globe, San Diego, California
This regional theater company located in Balboa Park has three theaters, including one modeled on the famed, circular-shaped Old Globe
in London. Like the original, it was destroyed by a fire and subsequently rebuilt. Staging of the Bard’s works, though, take place in the larger, open
air Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. For those who want more information and insight, there is a lecture series on topics related to the featured plays.

The line-up: Much Ado About Nothing (September 24), The Tempest (September 25)

Shakespeare in the Park, New York City
Watching the Bard’s dramas on sultry summer evenings in an open-air theater in Central Park is a ritual for New Yorkers. Scoring free tickets
requires patience, but the payoff is worth the effort. Tickets are given out each performance day at 1 p.m., with some staking a spot in line as early as 6 a.m. when the park opens. Big spenders can obtain tickets in advance by making a donation to the Public Theatre ($350 for two tickets).

The line-up: All’s Well that Ends Well (July 27), Measure for Measure (July 30)

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon
Surrounded by towering peaks and lush pine forests, this Pacific Northwest town boasts one of the oldest and largest professional nonprofit
theatres in the United States. Founded in 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages an eight-and- a-half-month season of Shakespearean and other classic plays in three local venues, including an outdoor Elizabethan-style amphitheatre.

The line-up: Measure for Measure (November 6), Julius Caesar (November 6), Henry IV, Part Two (May 31 – Oct 7), Love’s Labor’s Lost (June 2 – October 9), Richard III (July 20 – November 5)

American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, Virginia
Situated in the historic Shenandoah Valley is the American Shakespeare Center‘s 300-seat Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only full-sized re-creation of the indoor theatre Shakespeare and his comrades built on part of London’s Blackfriars Monastery. Even more impressive? Performances are staged in the Elizabethan tradition with natural lighting, simple stage sets, and recycled costumes.

The line-up: Macbeth (June 18), As You Like It (June 18), Measure for Measure (June 19), The Tempest (June 22 –
September 3), Hamlet (July 10 – September 3)

[photos © NovelDestinations.com]