A Shakespearian Girdle Round About the Earth

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I wrote last week in anticipation of our annual ‘Winter School’, which this year took the form of a round up of the Shakespearian year.

One of those sessions took its inspiration from Puck’s line:

‘I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2. 1.)

Actually, it took my colleagues Dr Diana Owen, Dr Nick Walton, and I more like 75 minutes to share snapshots of own Shakespearian expeditions and travels from 2010 and into 2011.

Diana spoke about how The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has begun to articulate its new strategic direction, one based on being a ‘gateway’ (rather than a ‘gatekeeper’) to Shakespeare. The future for cultural organisations like ourselves is about being as inclusive as possible, and facilitating engagement at all levels. Our exploration of digital media, of which the blog you are currently reading is one expression, makes it easier for us to become a flexible space in which people can inscribe their own stories and personalities, as well as engage with our own.

My whistle-stop of 2010 included the trip I made to Elsinore in April for a special production of Hamlet, hosted by The British Shakespeare Association at Konisberg Castle, the play’s fictional location. The promenade experience took the audience into many different interior and external locations. Hamlet and Ophelia’s famous ‘get thee to a nunnery’ scene (3. 1.) took place in the Renaissance chapel. I’ll never forget how the actors (most of whom were Cambridge undergraduates) seemed to haunt the production with their slightly whitened faces. And then it all became clear at the end. We had, as it were, been watching actual ghosts, haunting Konisberg Castle as the events of Shakespeare’s best ghost story repeated themselves every night.

Hamlet was also the theme of the Festivalul International Shakespeare which took place in Craiova and Bucharest later that same month. It was possible to see around seventeen productions of Hamlet in just under three weeks. In the few days I was there I managed to see the Polski Theatre’s production (from Wroclaw, Poland) and the Shanghai Theatre Academy’s from China. The event was augmented by academic seminars, but the main reason for my attending was that the book I co-authored with Stanley Wells Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Oxford, 2004) had been translated into Rumanian: Sonetele lui Shakespeare by Iolanda Manescu and Aloisia Sorop. It was a pleasure to meet our translators (who were very gracious about the project) during the book launch at Craiova’s National Theatre.

July took me to Marburg to attend a special ceremony in which the seventh honorary doctorate was conferred on Stanley Wells. The congregation took place in the beautiful fifteenth-century interior of the Castle. Dr Paul Prescott (Associate Professore, University of Warwick) gave a special oration in honour of Stanley. The Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Dr Sonja Fielitz, who has brought groups of Marburg undergraduates on short courses to the Shakespeare Centre for several years, arranged everything and made us all welcome.

And, of course, the year ended with our special ‘Shakespeare and Venice’ programme (which has already featured on this blog): five nights in that most extraordinary of places in which to explore Shakespearian connections both historical and imaginative.

Our session ended with Nick heralding the advent of the World Shakespeare Congress in Prague from 17 – 22 July 2011. This will be a gathering of Shakespeare scholars and enthusiasts from all over the world and is run by The International Shakespeare Association and in part organised and underwritten by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. You can find out more about this exciting event at www.shakespeare2011.net.

I make no wonder Puck is so breathless after all that!

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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