Tag Archives: Shakespeare

23rd April

The precise anniversary of Shakespeare’s death falls on April 23rd.

With remarkable convenience for commemorative purposes, this is also most likely his birthday. I say most likely because, while we have documentary evidence of his death, it was not births that got recorded in 16th century England, but baptisms, so we know that Shakespeare was baptised on Wednesday 26th April 1564, and baptisms usually happened roughly three days after birth.*

For a long time British historians were absurdly pleased about this date because it also happens to be St George’s Day, the commemorative day assigned to the patron saint of England. Odd as it seems, there was actually some fuss around when to commemorate the 300th anniversary of his death, with some suggesting the ‘real’ date would be 4th May, since Britain’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar, with its loss of 11 days, did not happen until 1752.

Printed page showing schedule of performances and text of poem "The Pen and the Sword".
From the commemorative programme of a Sydney fundraising performance. Original held by the State Library of NSW

In Australia the more noteworthy incident was that the 300th anniversary almost coincided with the first time ANZAC day was celebrated, on 25th April 1916. This turned events originally conceived as fundraisers for a Shakespeare memorial into fundraisers for the war effort. It did not dampen the enthusiasm for the events themselves, however. They merely morphed to incorporate the Aussie digger alongside Shakespeare, including patriotic tableaux, and a poem entitled “The Pen and the Sword” by Dulcie Deamer. It’s easy to laugh at the Edwardian jingoism of these efforts, but what comes through is the conviction of the participants that Shakespeare is there to be used – to be used by all, and in whatever way speaks to the needs of that moment. So perhaps not quite so different from our present attitude as we might think.

Shakespeare TwentyScore is not inclined to quibble about specific dates, nor about what kind of uses people find for Shakespeare. If there is one thing Shakespeare certainly learned from, and taught to, the world of theatre he helped create, it is that everything is fair game. We plan to celebrate in every way anyone can think of, and to do it all year.

* Bright yellow book cover showing cartoon of Shakespeare.For a more detailed look at this and other biographical details see Is It True What They Say About Shakespeare? by Stanley Wells. The packaging of this book makes it look dodgy as all get out, but it’s actually extremely solid, and Wells is probably the most venerable scholar of Shakespeare living today. Read Will Sharpe’s amusing review of this book in the Shakespeare Bookshop Newsletter.

Which Play?

A little game courtesy of the students from NUTS (the NSW University Theatrical Society). Can you tell which of Shakespeare’s plays is being represented by the cunningly performed tableaux?

  1. Let’s start with an easy one:

Young woman holds up a skull.2. Another warm-up to get you into the swing of the game:

Young man wearing furry ears and young woman wearing flower garland and fairy wings.

3. Here’s one we don’t see performed as often:

Young man with beard looking at young pregnant woman, who is holding up a ring.

4. Getting a little tricker now:

3 women in masks lean on a tree, 3 men in masks observe them.

5. A better known pastoral comedy. Not seen so often these days, but it used to be wildly popular:

Young man sitting in a tree writing in a book with a quill.

6. Giving the History plays a look in:

Man lying down while another holds a crown above his own head.

7. What about this old favourite?

Young woman in tree reaches down to young woman in mask standing below.

8. And another crowd-pleaser, but with a sad lack of blood in our props supply:

Young man seated staring at a knife.

How did you do? Answers below…






Five young men and women in bits of costume sitting in a tree.
Thanks to Michael, Moreblessing, Tess, Joe, Andrew, James and Lucy.
  1. Hamlet 2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3. All’s Well That Ends Well 4. Love’s Labours Lost 5. As You Like It 6. Henry IV 7. Romeo and Juliet 8. Macbeth (although that’s a wakizashi he’s holding, so technically it’s Throne of Blood – getting one in for the film buffs!)

Silent Shakespeare

21 March, Adelaide.

The University of Adelaide and Silents Now are having a special screening of the Asta Neilsen Hamlet, accompanied by live, improvised music.

The first Hamlet ever to appear on film was Sarah Bernhardt, in a roughly ten minute piece designed to demonstrate the possibilities of film. The first full length feature film version of Hamlet also starred a woman as the Prince, Danish actress Asta Neilsen.

“To my mind there were just two geniuses of the silent film era: Asta and Chaplin. It is very hard for anyone now to conceive the huge scale of Asta’s personality in Germany. Wherever we went, even in the smallest towns, crowds immediately gathered round her.” – Sven Gade, Director of Hamlet, in The Screenplay of My Life (1941).

For those interested in the extensive, expansive history of actresses playing Hamlet, Women As Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation by Tony Howard details the whole story.

One chance only to get the Asta Neilsen experience, and see the first Hamlet feature film on the big screen.

Tickets are free and can be booked HERE.

Flyer advertising Silent Shakespeare event (details repeated above).

Shakespeare and the Drover’s Wife


“When the Shakespeare Tercentenary Memorial Fund was established in Sydney in 1912 … the goal of the organisation was to raise enough money for a fitting memorial to Shakespeare to be created by the date of the three-hundredth anniversary of his death, in April 1916. Upon the announcement of the formation of the fund, an anonymous woman wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald to speak of the enthusiasm and support the organisation could expect from Australian women: ‘Whatever work there is to do by which we women may show our gratitude and love and devotion to our Shakespeare, we only ask, do not spare us, let us work side by side with men. Our power and ability to work for a fitting memorial of a beloved idol are as great, our devotion to the cause no less.'”

This is an extract from an article I wrote for the online journal Australian Studies.

B&W text: A Grand Spectacular Pageant Ball.
Advertisement for the 1914 Shakespeare Ball

The research for this article about the way Australians commemorated the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was only possible because of the remarkable capabilities of the Trove service, at the National Library of Australia. I was able to look up every column written about the Shakespeare Balls and other spectacular fundraising efforts, reported in minute detail in the Sydney newspapers from 1912 – 1916. I could do this at no charge, and without needing to travel to the Library in Canberra and ferret through their archives. This astonishing, useful, used resource is under threat from funding cuts, like so many other services supporting Australia’s intellectual and cultural life.

The idea of something that is already working so well, working for any Australian who cares to make use of it, and getting better all the time being curtailed is an unconscionable false economy.

Here you can read Mike Jones and Deb Verhoeven on Treasure Trove: why defunding Trove leaves Australia poorer.

The full article on the Shakespeare Tercentenary Memorial is available in downloadable PDF form here, as yet another free service from our National Library:

Shakespeare and the Drover’s Wife: the work of women in the Australian Cultural Landscape

(Australian Studies, volume 4, series 2)


UWA Shakespeare in The Conversation

The online journal for academics in a magazine-ish mood has a piece up from distinguished Shakespeare in Performance scholar Liz Schafer. It reflects on the work she has just been involved in in Perth, staging the Merry Wives of Windsor and Margaret of Anjou (noted previously on this site).

Vale Shakespeare, the (not always) patriarchal Bard

Peacock walking through outdoor seating.
A fellow of the resident company of the New Fortune Theatre

Tribute of a Troubador

Paul Kelly is scheduled to release his new album Seven Sonnets and a Song on 23 April, to mark the Shakespeare 400 anniversary.

Kelly, in consort with some of the highly accomplished Australian musicians he often works with, sings new settings of six of Shakespeare’s sonnets. “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” – Shakespeare could never have guessed how true his words would turn out to be, or what fresh forms this life of words would take.

The ‘sonnets’ portion of the work is rounded out by Vika Bull singing a poem by Sir Philip Sidney, providing an apt proof of Kelly’s eye for talent that doesn’t have as high a profile as it deserves, no matter what the era.

The song is from Twelfth Night, one of the party pieces of the wise fool Feste, ‘O Mistress Mine’.

Kelly has long been identified as much as poet as a popular music artist, so at some level this kind of project coming from him causes little of surprise, though much of delight.

Kelly is making the album available digitally at midnight Greenwich Mean Time on 22 April, as the morning of the 23rd begins. Later that day he will give a performance of this special work at the State Library of NSW. He will also be speaking about Shakespeare and performing several sonnets at Sydney Writers’ Festival on Monday, 16 May.

Album cover with ink and watercolour sketch of Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet: a rose among the wildflowers

12 & 13 March, St Ives.

Also this weekend in the Hunter Valley, and 5 March in Murrumbateman.

Essential Theatre specialise in “Shakespeare in the Vines” performances in vineyards, to a picnicking audience. For two performances only they are bringing their touring production of Romeo and Juliet to the northern Sydney suburb of St Ives, and playing in Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden.

Two men duel with fencing foils among gum trees.


Event information:

Gates open at 4pm with the show commencing at 6pm.There will be two x 50 minute acts with a 20 minute interval. Why not arrive early – relax, unwind and soak up the great picnic atmosphere? Food and drink is available on-site or you can bring your own picnic, but no alcohol can be brought on site. Low-rise chairs will be available for hire or you can bring your own.

Free on-site parking will be available.

This event will go ahead rain, hail or shine. In the event of extreme wet weather or heat the alternative venue will be the Douglas Pickering Pavilion at St Ives Showground, 450 Mona Vale Road St Ives.

Ticket prices are $49 Adults, $44 Concessions and groups of 10 or more, $140 family (2 adults, 2 children).

Full details here.

Black, white and red banner. Text advertising production as detailed above.

Hypotheticals at the Sydney Opera House

15 March, Sydney.

Culture Club at the Sydney Opera House has a morning discussion panel on the theme “If Shakespeare were alive today…”

Chaired by Jane Caro, the speakers are actor Michelle Doake and directors Damien Ryan and Peter Evans.

From the Sydney Opera House website:

“If Shakespeare Were Alive Today… What would he write about, and for whom? Marking 400 years on from Shakespeare’s death, Bell Shakespeare’s Peter Evans (Artistic Director), actor Michelle Doake and director Damien Ryan discuss some ‘what ifs’ in the world of this legendary artist. What would he make of the 21st Century? What do contemporary audiences get out of the classics? If Shakespeare were alive what would he be writing, and perhaps more importantly, for whom?”

Tickets are only $15 for those who somehow manage to free themselves up for an 11am gig.

Full details here.

Auckland has a pop-up Globe

From 19 February, Auckland CBD.

Lucky Auckland is having a Globe Theatre delivered to their doorstep.

Middle-aged white man with glasses, braces and a fine moustache.
Miles Gregory

An amazing project in New Zealand is seeing a full-scale replica of the Globe built, used, then dismantled over the course of 2016. Lots of different companies, loads of plays, workshops, classes and experimental performance work.

Led by Artistic Director Miles Gregory, the core of the programme lies in full-scale professional productions of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet. “These two masterpieces are performed by a cast of professional actors brought together into a new, specially-formed ensemble repertory company, that have worked with world experts to bring you the so-called ‘shock of the old’: the experience of seeing Shakespeare’s plays performed in the space for which they were written.” (Pop-Up Globe: About Us) However, the venture is offering a frame for a much winder range of projects.

If I were there I would camp out under their makeshift eves and see everything, before it vanishes like Titania’s court.

Logo with block drawing of Globe theatre. Text: Pop-up Globe the 2016 Auckland season.

Full details here

Merry Wives: the Symposium

One day only, 17 February, Perth

A wonderful opportunity to hear a gathering of international experts on a too-neglected play.

This symposium runs in conjunction with the performances of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor on the New Fortune Theatre, 16–18 February 2016. It brings together international experts on the play and on theatre history.

Further details from Bob White (bob.white@uwa.edu.au)

Rob Conkie (La Trobe University): Director The Merry Wives of Windsor, New Fortune Theatre
Alison Findlay (Lancaster University, UK): Author Women in Shakespeare: A Dictionary (2010)
Philippa Kelly (Resident Dramaturg, the California Shakespeare Theater): Author of The King and I (Shakespeare Now! series)
Helen Ostovich (McMaster University, Canada): Online edition The Merry Wives of Windsor, forthcoming
Peter Reynolds, (University of Newcastle upon Tyne): Senior Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for the History of Emotions
Elizabeth Schafer (Royal Holloway College, University of London): writing a performance history of The Merry Wives of Windsor for the Manchester University Press Shakespeare in Performance series
Robert White (UWA): Author The Merry Wives of Windsor: A New Critical Introduction

Date: Wednesday 17 February 2016
Time: 10:00am-5:00pm
Venue: Arts Lecture Room 5 (Arts G.61) and the New Fortune Theatre, The University of Western Australia
Registration: This is a free event but numbers will be limited so please confirm attendance in advance with Pam Bond (pam.bond@uwa.edu.au)

Statue of a fat old man in medieval dress leaning on a plinth, skyscraper in background.
Falstaff at Shakespeare Place