Shakespearean City

Ewan FernieCarole Nash Recital Room

Despite being a small market town at some distance from the metropolitan centre, Stratford is an international capital of Shakespeare performance, education and culture. The phenomena of ‘Global Shakespeare’ and postcolonialism have tended to direct attention almost everywhere else, but this has hardly displaced Stratford’s centrality. The Shakespeare world comes to Stratford (as well as to London), and the big Shakespeare organisations have responded by
welcoming and showcasing the world there. But in fact there is ‘a world elsewhere’ just up the road in Birmingham – the youngest city in Europe, and a super-diverse one to boot….

This panel will present Birmingham’s lost Shakespearean heritage. Shakespeare was first played in modern dress in Birmingham, and the Birmingham Rep and other organisations continue to honour and refresh that vital tradition; but Birmingham was also home to the first great Shakespeare Library in the world, one which, in theory, still belongs to all the people of the city.

The establishment of this Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library in 1864 was meant as part of a world-historic, now largely forgotten effort to ‘give everything to everybody’, signalling nothing less than the start a new epoch of cultural democracy. ‘Shakespearean City’ begins with an exploration of this precious, mislaid heritage by Professor Ewan Fernie of The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. It will showcase the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council meant to unlock and revive the first great Shakespeare Library for people and communities across contemporary Birmingham in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The panel continues with a proposal from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Education, Jacqui O’Hanlon, for ‘a grand alliance’ between Universities, cultural organisations and schools which will recover, reprise and renew the heritage of local communities such as Birmingham in a creative contribution to contemporary culture. O’Hanlon will offer a taste of the RSC’s commitment to and activities in Birmingham, before handing over to Dr Abigail Rokison-
Woodall (also of the Shakespeare Institute), who will unfold their pioneering collaboration with the city’s D/deaf children and how it connects to the ‘everything to everybody’ ethos.

The panel concludes with a collaborative presentation by the Head of Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Rev Dr Paul Edmondson, and Birmingham City University’s BBC New Generation Thinker Dr Islam Issa on tapping into the multiplicitous faith traditions of today’s Birmingham in order to engage with Shakespeare and the city in new ways.

In the comparable, post-industrial city of Manchester / Salford, ‘Shakespearean City’ will explore the example of Birmingham in order to test the potential for community-building and civic renovation which art and culture, and Shakespeare in particular, offer to British and other cities in our time.

Fri 11:00 am - 12:15 pm