The British Museum in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is currently hosting an in-depth exhibition about Shakespeare's London as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. Through the display of nearly 200 representative historical objects, the exhibition explores pivotal topics, such as the emergence of London as a major world city, the power-lust of the Tudors and the Stewarts, an expanding global consciousness, the playwright's role in the development of an English national identity, and the experience of theatre-going in the seventeenth century. The rare and diverse items on display have been borrowed from collections across the world to tell the story of London life in the 1600s, all filtered through the lens of Shakespeare's works.
The Globe Theatre, Bankside. Photo by Erin Connelly.
The museum has produced this unique story-telling experience by juxtaposing the items on display with Shakespeare's texts through a series of new digital innovations. These innovations, such as special performances by RSC actors, allow visitors to interact directly with Shakespearean texts alongside the exhibited objects. Shakespeare's works were informed by his culture and, likewise, they were major influencers of culture in their own right; each carefully chosen object reveals some facet of the playwright and the life behind his texts. In this way, the exhibit dynamically brings Shakespeare's London to life.
Portrait of Shakespeare, 1610. National Portrait Gallery. Public Domain.
Among the objects connected to Shakespeare are items excavated from the Globe and Rose theatres, such as an actor's toothpick, skulls, and cutlery. Also included are portraits and royal pieces that inspired Shakespeare's writing, such as the battle gear of Henry V (sword and helmet).
Hamlet holding the skull of Yorick. Photo by Peter Church.
To supplement the display, the museum is also hosting a series of evening lectures and events. The next special event, Shakespeare Beyond the City, will take place on 2 November from 6.00pm – 9.00pm. The exhibition will stay open late and food and drinks will be available. The next (and final) lecture, Searching for William Shakespeare, takes place on 23 November at 6.30pm and costs £5 or £3 for members/concessions. Michael Wood, broadcaster and historian, will be lecturing on the limited evidence available about Shakespeare and how historical objects, such as those on display at the museum, can reveal important aspects of his life.
The museum highly recommends booking in advance through their online site or by calling the booking office. No booking is required for members, who can enter the exhibit for free. The ticket prices for all others are variable and further information is available at the British Museum site.
Appealing to theatre aficionados, history buffs, and museum-goers of all varieties, this unique event will only be around for a short time.