Shakespeare in Ten Acts

British Library

15 April – 6 September 2016

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Marking 400 years since the playwright’s death on 23 April 1616, this show explores how his legacy has endured the passage of time.

Aernout van Buchel, Swan Theatre, c.1596

Whether his work is being quoted by David Cameron in PMQs or reimagined by Hollywood for the big screen, Shakespeare continues to be held in the highest esteem across the world today, despite it being some four centuries since his death. His plays and sonnets have been translated into every major living language, including Kling-On, and are responsible for introducing more than 3000 words to the English dictionary.

This exhibition highlights the true might of his legacy by examining ten defining Shakespeare productions from the last 400 years. Beginning with the very first performance of Hamlet in 1600 and spanning to The Wooster Group's digital deconstruction of the same play in 2006, the show reveals the myraid of ways the bard's work has been transformed, translated, faked, forged, revised and recast to suit the times in which it is performed.

A production of Othello from 1825, for example, was the first in which a black actor was cast as the lead. These were the years preceding the abolition of slavery and racist attitudes were rife, if not the norm. In the playbill we see the great lengths that he – Ira Aldridge – had to go to justify himself as Othello and try to challenge preconceptions.

As well as examples of film, costumes and props, the display contains a series of rare artefacts, such as the only surviving script in the writer’s own hand.

Don't miss

The diary of law student John Manningham, provides an interesting insight into Shakespeare's character. In an entry dated 13 March 1602 he tells of how a female fan invited the actor Richard Burbage to visit her after his performance in Richard III at the Globe but Shakespeare, on getting wind of the request, decided to steal the opportunity for himself. He replied to her with the message: 'William the Conqueror was before Richard III'.

Venue information

Opening times

Main building

Mon – Thu, 9.30am – 8pm

Fri, 9.30am –​6pm (Sat until 5pm)

​Sun, 11am-5pm

Treasures Gallery and PACCAR exhibitions

Tue –Thu, 9.30am-8pm, Mon & Fri until 6pm, Sat until 5pm, Sun 11am – 5pm

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)