Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright
8 February – 21 September 2014
The 23rd April 2014 marks 450 years since William Shakespeare was born. To mark this occasion, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a new exhibition exploring how Shakespeare’s works have inspired theatrical interpretations through the centuries and across the globe.
Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright takes Shakespeare’s First Folio as its centrepiece. This collected edition of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays (excluding Pericles) was originally published in 1623 and contains the first known versions of many of the plays. Without it, eighteen of the works would be unknown today, including Macbeth, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. Surrounding the Folio are new interviews, archive footage and photography, and twenty-five objects from the V&A collections, to explore how the plays have been interpreted and re-imagined by successive generations.
Objects on display, including props, costumes, set models, design sketches and printed ephemera, will illustrate past productions of Shakespeare’s works. Amongst these are a skull used by Sarah Bernhardt during her role as Hamlet in 1899, and the embroidered handkerchief used by actress Ellen Terry whilst playing Desdemona in 1881 at the Lyceum Theatre. Costumes include a headdress by the prominent society designer Oliver Messel, worn by the actress Vivien Leigh during performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1937, and a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in an 1877 production of Richard III. With a stacked right heel, the boots helped Irving to perform with the character’s distinctive limp. You can also see a 1772 set design for Richard III by the innovative designer Philip James de Loutherbourg, which suggests a free-standing bridge, and examples of theatrical ephemera including a ticket to a 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee.
Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright will be accompanied by a varied programme of activities and events at the V&A celebrating the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and examining the enduring influence and popularity of the world’s most famous poet and playwright.