Theatre, Writing

Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Globe in London is going all out this year in honour of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Film adaptation screenings along the South Bank, a world tour of Hamlet, and a season by a new artistic director: it’s certainly going to be a year to remember.

Shakespeare's Globe, London.
Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Image: Marése O’Sullivan.

Kicking off the celebration of William Shakespeare’s legacy is the Globe’s touring production of Hamlet. They began in 2014 and are hoping to take it to every country in the world (they’re currently in Bahrain).

I was lucky enough to see the show when it came to Dublin for one day. A simplistic set was brought to life by the sheer energy of the cast, with clashing rapiers and dashing costume changes. The tour wraps up at home in London when the cast return for their final performance of Hamlet at the Globe on 23 April, exactly 400 years to the day of Shakespeare’s death.

The new artistic director of the Globe, Emma Rice, begins her first season leading the theatre with a cracking line-up, called the Wonder Season. I’m particularly looking forward to Macbeth. Rice has said she wants to focus on the more dreamy and fantastical elements of Shakespeare. “We’re in for a treat of mysticism and magic,” she says.

Shakespeare's Globe.
Shakespeare’s Globe. Image: David Stanley, Flickr

As she is the first female artistic director to take the helm, I’m keen to see what she does with the role and the productions. She’s directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will be followed by The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona, among others. And she’s already “renamed and reclaimed” Cymbeline, changing the title to Imogen, to reflect the character with the most lines.

Notably, The Merchant of Venice, starring the wonderful Jonathan Pryce, will play the Globe before beginning an international tour. (Yay, please come to Ireland!)

On a side note, Dan Hillier has created some amazing illustrations for the season’s launch.

Next up I’ll be watching Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick. This play has always meant a lot to me as it was the first of Shakespeare’s that I ever studied, and those characters are so wonderfully iconic.

I saw Branagh alongside Judi Dench in The Winter’s Tale, which was also part of his company’s season – I wonder if he was tempted to cast himself in Romeo and Juliet as well? Branagh has cast Richard Madden and Lily James, whom he also directed in the live-action film Cinderella last year.

The trailer is suitably lustful and full of longing looks – Madden and James have already proven themselves to work as an on-screen duo – so I think it will be interesting to see if they can create that chemistry on stage. By the time I see it in June, Madden will be 30 and James 27: I am sure they will do justice to the roles, but will they be able to capture the innocence of the youthful romance or will they tint it with their own experience?

I’m hoping to get the chance to travel to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and I will definitely be checking out the 37 new films along the South Bank. Between Westminster Bridge and London Bridge, 10 minute performances to mark each play will be shown on loop on 23 and 24 April.

The Southbank Centre will be hosting the music of ‘Shakespeare on Film’ on 4 April; King’s College London will run an exhibition from 3 February to 29 May called ‘By me, William Shakespeare: A life in writing’, which includes Shakespeare’s will; and the British Library will have an exhibition entitled ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ from 15 April to 6 September.

There are, of course, many more productions and performances, which you can find at

Shakespeare. Image: Public domain.

How will you be celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare? Which is your favourite play? Let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare”

  1. Congratulations on your blog post, I only have read one play which I selected from reading summaries of the plays. I choose the ever captivating and romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. To commemorate 400 years of Shakespeare I will read some sonnets and read another play. What is your favourite play, and which one do you recommend to read next?

    1. Thank you! What did you think of Romeo and Juliet? One of my favourite Shakespeare plays is Macbeth – particularly as he has a really interesting relationship with his wife! I’d give that a go if you’re looking for your next read. 😊

  2. I loved Romeo and Juliet, to give your life because you can’t spend the rest of your life with your significant other is the most romantic thing you can do. Shakespeare is known for his metaphors and rich use of the English language, which is reflected in the play.

    But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
    It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
    Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
    Who is already sick and pale with grief,
    That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
    Be not her maid since she is envious.
    Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
    And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off!
    It is my lady. Oh, it is my love.
    Oh, that she knew she were!
    She speaks, yet she says nothing. What of that?
    Her eye discourses. I will answer it.—
    I am too bold. ‘Tis not to me she speaks.
    Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
    Having some business, do entreat her eyes
    To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
    What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
    The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
    As daylight doth a lamp. Her eye in heaven
    Would through the airy region stream so bright
    That birds would sing and think it were not night.
    See how she leans her cheek upon her hand.
    Oh, that I were a glove upon that hand
    That I might touch that cheek! She speaks.
    O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art
    As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,
    As is a wingèd messenger of heaven
    Unto the white, upturnèd, wondering eyes
    Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
    When he bestrides the lazy-puffing clouds
    And sails upon the bosom of the air.

         Ay me!

    (to himself) She speaks. Oh, speak again, bright angel. You are as glorious as an angel tonight. You shine above me, like a winged messenger from heaven who makes mortal men fall on their backs to look up at the sky, watching the angel walking on the clouds and sailing on the air.

    O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
    Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
    Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
    And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

    (not knowing ROMEO hears her) Oh, Romeo, Romeo, why do you have to be Romeo? Forget about your father and change your name. Or else, if you won’t change your name, just swear you love me and I’ll stop being a Capulet.

    (aside) Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
    (to himself) Should I listen for more, or should I speak now?”

    ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
    Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
    What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
    Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
    Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
    What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other word would smell as sweet.
    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
    Retain that dear perfection which he owes
    Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
    And for that name, which is no part of thee
    Take all myself.

    This is my favourite part if we are talking about his use of language.

    Sonnet 18 I had to study in my English Literature class, analysing every sentence. For someone who likes to write something poetry like on his own and than throw it away, it was a unique experience to understand the sonnet.

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