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Obama celebrates Shakespeare as UK debates - to be or not to be in the EU

Amid controversy over his warning against a "Brexit," US President Obama visited the Globe Theater on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. It remains to be seen whether Britons will lend their ears to Obama.

As Britain continued to mull its future in the 27-member European bloc, US President Barack Obama visited the Globe Theater in London to pay tribute to the English bard, whose death 400 years ago was being commemorated on April 23.

The US leader was treated to scenes from Shakespeare's famous play "Hamlet" on Saturday at Shakespeare's Globe Theater, which dates back to the 16th century. Obama, who has named Shakespeare's tragedies as among the top three books that have inspired him, watched actors perform various scenes from the famous tragedy, including the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from the fictional Danish prince.

"Let me shake hands with everyone," the president told actors after the performance. "That was wonderful. I don't want it to stop."

US President Barack Obama tours the Globe Theatre with Director of Education Patrick Spottiswoode (R) in London, April 23, 2016 (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/J. Watson)

Obama clapped loudly following the show

Obama also toured the theater along with Patrick Spottiswoode, the director of education at the Globe.

"You're doing a great job," the president told Spottiswoode.

In 2011, Obama quoted from Shakespeare's Richard II as he toasted to Queen Elizabeth II: "To this blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England."

A tempest over Obama's Brexit remarks

President Obama's visit to the Globe Theater comes at a time when a tempest is brewing in England over his "Brexit" warning.

Britons will vote in a referendum on June 23 to decide their future with the EU. Obama warned that a vote to leave the bloc could put Britain "at the back of the queue" in its negotiations on a bilateral trade deal with the US.

His comments sparked a controversy in Britain, with many leaders and analysts accusing the president of interfering in the country's domestic affairs and influencing the vote.

A YouGov poll showed that 53 percent of British voters felt it was inappropriate for the US president to express a preference on how Britain should vote, while 35 percent said it was appropriate.

Shakespeare

Nationwide celebrations are being held in the UK to commemorate the bard's 400th anniversary

'Lend me your ears'

Celebrations are underway across the UK to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Widely regarded as the greatest English playwright ever and one of the biggest icons in world literature, Shakespeare wrote plays on a myriad of subjects and themes, including royal intrigues based on historical characters.

It remains to be seen to what extent the British voters will lend their ears to the US leader, a known friend of Britain.

Shakespeare's words were quoted by British Prime Minister David Cameron during Obama's visit to the Globe Theater. "His words about this nation, 'this precious stone set in the silver sea,' remain as potent as the day he wrote them," said Cameron.

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