Bard masks at the the ready ... Mayor of Stratford Cllr Tessa Bates is looking forward to today's celebrations. Photo: Mark Williamson

THOUSANDS of Shakespeare masks are being distributed to revellers at this year’s Shakespeare celebrations as a special souvenir of the day.

Some 10,000 lucky visitors will be given masks on Saturday with organisers asking people to don them at exactly the same time for a special ‘mask moment’ during the parade.

It should prove to be a fantastic photo opportunity with crowds being invited to give ‘three cheers for Shakespeare’ by the Master of Ceremonies.

The masks will also be a useful tool on the day with a quick and easy guide to the birthday parade and other events appearing on the reverse.

Children from local schools will distribute the masks from 9.30am in the town centre and people are asked to assemble early to avoid disappointment.

In 2015 Stratford District Council and Stratford Town Council commissioned the development of a portrait of the Bard that could be used to create a novel celebrity face mask.

The image had to be a recognisable likeness of Shakespeare in high definition.

It has taken considerable effort to research a suitable image, search for an artist to create it, and deal with complex licensing and copyright agreements.

Cllr Mike Gittus, chairman of Stratford District Council, said: “This was always going to be a challenge with Shakespeare’s death having been early in the 17th century, long before any form of camera.

“We concluded that just as important as the accuracy of the image of the mask, it had to be publicly recognisable as that of the famous Bard of Avon. Most importantly the chosen image had to be capable of being converted into a full frontal face mask.

“We knew that when ‘the world’ ponders on Shakespeare, it sees in its mind’s eye the famous Droeshout engraving of him. This is the picture inside the First Folio of his collected works printed in 1623 and the accuracy of this engraving was endorsed by his contemporary Ben Jonson.

“The choice was suddenly made simple. Armed with the world famous picture, the search was on for an artist to produce a suitable version for conversion into a mask.”

Stourbridge-based artist Geoffrey Tristram was commissioned to create the mask. He has also created another oil-on-canvas image of Shakespeare that will be on display at the Town Hall between 20th-24th April along with his image used for the mask.