Shakespeare 400: the anniversary year in review

To mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April, the University community was treated to a magical night of “Seven Sonnets and a Song”, featuring Richard Flanagan, the Boisbouvier Founding Chair in Australian Literature, in conversation with acclaimed singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, who also performed songs from his newly released Shakespeare-inspired album, Seven Sonnets and a Song.

The Gerry Higgins Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies, Dr David McInnis, addressed the Melbourne Shakespeare Society on April 23rd, presenting his research on the lost Shakespeare Apocrypha. Throughout the year, the pieces about Shakespeare that he wrote for the University’s news platform, Pursuit, were picked up by The New York Times, the BBC, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph, as well as newspapers in India and China. Closer to home he was interviewed by the Herald Sun, The Age, Radio National, and 774 ABC Radio.

In 2016 the University community has certainly celebrated Shakespeare’s legacy, hosting the Australian premiere of Julie Taymor’s cinematic adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the VCA’s Federation Hall, the Australian launch of the new Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare, and a “Shakespeare on Film” festival in conjunction with ACMI and the British Film Institute.

Performances abounded, with student performances of Twelfth Night, 1 Henry IV, Macbeth (+ Macdeath: A Coda), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing. The Bell Shakespeare Company ran a workshop for student actors and a seminar on Romeo and Juliet for the Faculty of Arts’ four-part masterclass series on Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies, histories and romances.

As the world’s media seized on the controversial announcement that Christopher Marlowe had co-authored the three parts of Henry VI with Shakespeare, we heard first-hand from Professor John Jowett, a General Editor of the New Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare, about how such authorial attribution was decided. Professor Jowett spoke in the Arts West building alongside three other keynotes from the Shakespeare Institute (Stratford) and the University of York, as part of the Faculty of Arts’ symposium, Beyond 400: New Shakespeares. The symposium was preceded by an engaging public talk on “The Death of Shakespeare” by Professor Ian Donaldson, who posed the perplexing question of why Shakespeare’s death in 1616 was such a non-event, his achievements not widely celebrated or remembered.

Visiting Shakespeare scholars from Macgill (Canada), York (UK), Bath Spa (UK), and Durham (UK) spoke on topics as diverse as Shakespeare and friendship, Shakespeare and livecast cinema, Shakespeare and the idea of conversion, and the early printing and copyright of Shakespeare’s works. Luo Xuanmin, the Faculty of Arts Asia Institute’s new Professor of Translation and Intercultural Studies, spoke of his experiences translating Antony and Cleopatra into Mandarin, and Professor Alessandra Petrina visited Melbourne from Padua as a guest of the Italian Australian Foundation and the Faculty of Arts, to speak to the broader Italian community about Shakespeare and cultural exchange between early modern England and Italy.

The teaching of Shakespeare’s works underwent significant change with the opening of the Arts West building, moving towards a blended learning approach including unique video content created with the Melbourne University Shakespeare Company (MUSC) and the Faculty of Arts e-Teaching Unit. This included filming a scene from a recent production of The Taming of the Shrew using Virtual Reality technology; students used custom made Google Card viewers to participate in the immersive experience, and the story was featured on Channel 9 News’s Open Day coverage in August.

There’s still time to explore the After Shakespeare exhibition, which runs until 15 January 2017 in the Noel Shaw Gallery in the Baillieu Library, featuring such treasures as a Second and a Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s works (1632 and 1685), Germaine Greer’s unpublished Shakespeare writings, production artifacts from the MTC, a range of rare prints, a unique prompt-book for a Gold Rush era production of Antony and Cleopatra in Melbourne, and an engraved plaque of a specially commissioned poem by Chris Wallace-Crabbe. The exhibition draws on the holdings of the Baillieu Special Collections and Prints; the Germaine Greer Archive; the Melbourne Theatre Company; the Melbourne University Shakespeare Company; and the State Library of Victoria.

Finally, to mark the closing of this feverish year of activities throughout 2016 the Faculty of Arts is delighted to announce the establishment of the Shakespeare 400 Trust. The Trust has been set up with the aim of supporting Shakespeare Studies at the University of Melbourne in the future (let’s hope for at least another 400 years!). The Faculty of Arts is lucky to currently have Dr McInnis inspiring our students with interactive teaching in this field, and one need only consider the extraordinary set of events on the global political stage at the moment to appreciate how the Bard’s writings on leadership, authority, power and many other issues can and should inform our lives.

If you’re interested in learning more or supporting the Shakespeare 400 Trust, please contact Julie du Plessis, the Faculty of Arts’ Senior Development Manager on 03 9035 9577 or via email at julie.dp@unimelb.edu.au.

Image courtesy Grainger Museum and Special Collections. Photo by Peter Casamento.