Year of Shakespeare: The Olympics Opening Ceremony

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This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.


What did people make of Shakespeare’s role in the ‘Isles of Wonder’ Olympic Opening Ceremony last night? Here are some thoughts from Twitter – you can add your voice to the mix in the comments below!


To read more reviews of the performances and events that are a part of the World Shakespeare Festival, visit Year of Shakespeare.

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Author:Erin Sullivan

Erin Sullivan is Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. In 2012 she led the project, which has led to two publications with the Arden Shakespeare series: A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival (2013) and Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (2014). Her research is now turning to the use of digital technologies in the production and reception of Shakespearean performance. You can follow Erin on Twitter @_erinsullivan_


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  • Humphrey

    Haha yeah I thought the same thing – perhaps ‘Once more unto the breach…’ or St. Crispin’s day would have been too nationalistic?

  • Humphrey

    Original extract:

    “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,

    Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

    Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices

    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

    Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,

    The clouds methought would open and show riches

    Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,

    I cried to dream again.”

    Olympic context:

    “Don’t worry, even though the UK is PUMPING with festivities,
    cool music and stuff, they are to be enjoyed and won’t hurt anyone.
    Sometimes (like at the opening ceremony) there will be sooo much music!
    And sometimes people will make speeches, that are bound to stir up people’s
    hopes and dreams, clouds parting with the glory of Olympic medals,
    so that if someone should actually win a gold medal then it will be like a dream within a dream (THAT is how much fun these Olympics are going to be)…”

    Apart from it being quite unreasonable for people to understand the poem by drawing on it’s original context and characters (made even more unreasonable by the fact that Branagh was dressed as Brunel, in the English countryside, surrounded by industrial entrepeneurs… a far cry from Sycorax’s island), it is too obscure trying to label ‘this part as from Caliban’s perspective’ and ‘this part as from Ariel’s perspective’, let alone what characters ‘are about to do in the original play’ in a such a wildly re-imagined setting. The entire ceremony was about invoking impressions of English culture, however vague or ambigious the imagery and cultural references presented might be.

    I think it is more likely that the piece was chosen to simply articulate the general mood of palpable excitement crackling through the air, which is does just fine without the need to work out what connects Colonialism and The Tempest.

  • Sharad Vohra

    are bemused at the selection of the quote from Tempest. In the play, Caliban is about to try to kill the imperial ‘manipulator’ who took away
    his island. The critics cite the British Empire, Colonialism and the uncouth
    pagan character in the play.

    context of the play provides a relevant symbolism, as topical today as any
    other time. Wonder if the Olympic creative team meant it.

    play contrasts the spiritual ethereal qualities of psyche (in Ariel) and the
    baser qualities of man (in Caliban). Of the controlling consciousness and the unconscious
    aggressive, devilish instinctual drives (id).



    this thing of darkness i
    acknowledge mine.


    it’s not an “insubstantial pageant faded”.
    Rather – “How beauteous mankind is! O
    brave new world”.

  • Andrew

    I’m not sure Sir Ken playing Brunel playing Caliban was the ceremony’s finest moment but the rest of the show was amazing! Just when I thought The Beatles meeting the Windrush immigrants in a steel foundry was utterly ludicrous it resolved itself into the flying Olympic rings, the first of many stunning images which celebrated our sense of tradition combined with a restless, chaotic and subversive creativity which, as a Brit, I’m proud to claim as my cultural heritage. This is the country which had the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’ at No. 1 in 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, and that same love-it-but-don’t-feel-tied-by-it, tear it down and build it up again, spirit inspired every second of the Olympics ceremony from the sky-diving Queen to the dancing hospital beds. Completely bonkers and utterly brilliant!

  • Ty Unglebower

    I liked it, and as usual, Kenneth did an excellent job reciting same. I did thing it was a somewhat strange choice around which to build the theme. Given all the Shakespeare that could have been used. Not terrible, just…odd.

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