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Monday, 1 October 2012

Shakespeare: Staging the World (British Museum)


As you enter the exhibition area you are met with the idea that Shakespeare is Britain’s greatest cultural contribution to the world, and also that in his time, the world was portrayed on the stage of the Globe Theatre. This is perhaps something difficult for us to understand as with modern technology the world is readily available at the click of a button, however, as you progress through the exhibition you get a real sense of how very true this is.

As you move through the various areas of the exhibition you are taken on a journey through time, and around the world, from the London that Shakespeare inhabited, to the classical world, all the way through to modernity and a display of how important Shakespeare’s work is to this day.

Both in the medieval past, and the classical world sections it was interesting to learn about how Shakespeare both reported on the past whilst overlapping and interweaving contemporary issues. I was also interested by the claim that his histories were never meant to be historically accurate portrayals, as his works have so influenced ideas about events and characters from history, most notably Richard III, whose reputation was blackened with Tudor propaganda.

In every room there was an audio to be listened to, or a video to be watched of modern members of the RSC performing sections of the plays. This was interesting, albeit somewhat distracting when trying to read the information on the exhibits. However, it was particularly effective in the witchcraft section, creating an eerie mood.

There were some utterly fascinating, and unique objects on display, from a First Folio edition, to famous paintings, to the lantern that supposedly belonged to Guy Fawkes. One of my favourite pieces on show was that showing ideas of how to combine the English and Scottish flag created under James I. One of the most disturbing objects was a requiary containing a human eyeball.

All in all this was a fascinating, well thought out exhibition, which successfully portrayed the opinions expressed at the beginning. This is not an exhibition about Shakespeare’s life, but one about the world he inhabited, influenced, and that which he took inspiration from. There’s something here for everyone to enjoy, and it’s a great opportunity to explore the world of our most famous playwright.

The exhibition is running until November 25th, more details here.

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