British Museum Announces 2012 Shakespeare Staging the World Exhibition

During the summer of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games the British Museum will present a major exhibition on the world and works of William Shakespeare, supported by BP. Shakespeare: staging the world will be part of the World Shakespeare Festival in the London 2012 Festival. Exhibition open 19 July – 25 November 2012.

The exhibition will provide a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city interpreted through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays, and will be brought to life through objects, digital media and performance. The British Museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the creative approach to the design of the exhibition, accentuating the connections between the objects, Shakespeare’s text and performance. The arrival of the Games to London in 2012 provides the opportunity to reflect on how the world came to London four centuries ago, and how Londoners perceived the world when global exchange and other aspects of modernity originated.

One of the key innovations of the period was the birth of the modern professional theatre: purpose-built playhouses and professional playwrights were a new phenomenon, with the most successful of them being the Chamberlain’s/King’s Men at the Globe, and their house dramatist William Shakespeare. The exhibition will show how the playhouse informed, persuaded and provoked thought on the issues of the day; how it shaped national identity, first English, then British; and how the theatre opened a window on the wider world, from Italy to Africa to America.

The exhibition will create a unique dialogue between an extraordinary array of objects – from great paintings to exquisite jewels and rare manuscripts – and the plays and characters that have had a richer cultural legacy than any other in the western world. Among the objects linked to Shakespeare and his works will be the Ides of March coin, the gold aureus commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome’s most famous murder and the subject of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Also the Lyte Jewel, presented to Thomas Lyte in 1610 in thanks for his royal genealogy tracing James I’s lineage through Banquo, whose murder is a key element in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to Brutus, the mythical Trojan founder of Britain. The jewel is enamelled gold with diamonds set in the royal cipher of James I and containing the king’s miniature by Thomas Hilliard.

Jonathan Bate, Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick and Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, who is contributing to the exhibition said “I am tremendously excited to be working with the British Museum’s brilliant curators in devising an exhibition for the London 2012 Festival – a kind of History of Shakespeare and his World. We will be using Shakespeare’s amazing characters and evocative locations as a way of showing how all the world was a stage, full of dramatic encounters between cultures and nationalities. Shylock is our way into early modern Jewish culture, Othello takes us to Africa and Caliban to the New World. This show is potentially the most exciting thing to have happened in my thirty year love-affair with Shakespeare.”

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