The biggest Shakespeare stories of 2016

Let’s take a moment to revisit some of the biggest Shakespeare stories in the news this year, from the discoveries that grabbed headlines to the spectacular celebrations of the 400th anniversary to the celebrity performances that generated the most buzz.

Discoveries and Scholarship

Archaeologists have been busy this year. After taking hi-tech scans of Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, investigators concluded in March that his skull has probably been stolen. The archaeological dig at the Curtain, the London theater where some of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, revealed that the venue was rectangular, not round, the Associated Press reported in May.

In April, just in time for the big 400th anniversary celebrations on April 23, the news broke that a previously unknown copy of the First Folio had emerged in Scotland. This rare discovery happened at Mount Stuart House on the Island of Bute.

Shakespeare coat of arms
The New England Historic Genealogical Society.

In June, The New York Times published important discoveries about Shakespeare’s coat of arms made by Heather Wolfe, the Folger’s curator of manuscripts. These documents show Shakespeare’s intimate involvement in his family’s application for a coat of arms, reinforcing the evidence that Shakespeare the man from Stratford was also Shakespeare the London playwright.

You can see the documents on Shakespeare Documented, the largest and most authoritative collection of primary-source materials documenting the life of William Shakespeare, which the Folger launched this year in partnership with the Bodleian Libraries, British Library, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and The National Archives UK.

Oxford University Press announced in October that it’s giving Christopher Marlowe credit as co-author on Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays, based on analysis of the play’s vocabulary and style. This is the first such attribution made by a major publishing house.

Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare

Chicago hosted the largest U.S. celebration of the 400th anniversary, with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater leading a slate of events across the city all year, including plays, concerts, film screenings, an exhibition at the Newberry Library—and even Chicago chefs dishing up the Culinary Complete Works. International artists performed Shakespeare’s work in 11 languages on Chicago stages.

The Folger celebrated 400 years of Shakespeare with special exhibitions, lectures, performances, The Wonder of Will Live, and a tour of Shakespeare’s First Folio to all 50 states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.

The British Council, which supported the Folger’s Wonder of Will celebrations, also coordinated its own program to commemorate Shakespeare in this big anniversary year: Shakespeare Lives. Working with British theaters, museums, and educators, Shakespeare Lives produced a host of events, as well as a series of short films, education materials, and a “Mix the Play” interactive. It also commissioned a series of essays from global figures such as John Kerry, who revealed his favorite Shakespeare character.

He wasn’t the only high-profile U.S. government figure to have a Shakespeare moment this year. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over a mock appeal of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, in Venice itself.

As part of Shakespeare Lives, Shakespeare’s Globe in London made its Bollywood-infused production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream available to watch online. (The video expires March 11, 2017.) This year, Shakespeare’s Globe also wrapped up its “Globe to Globe Hamlet” tour, which made history by traveling to 197 countries over two years. (The Folger was one of two U.S. stops in 2014.)

Star-Studded Performances

The much-anticipated adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays, The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses finally comes to PBS (after airing on the BBC in May). Benedict Cumberbatch plays Richard III. Judi Dench plays his mother.

Among the stage performances that garnered (and continue to garner) lots of media attention this year:

  • Othello, starring David Oyewolo and Daniel Craig, directed by Sam Gold, is playing sold-out performances at the New York Theatre Workshop.
  • Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female The Tempest, with Harriet Walter as Prospero, at the Donmar Warehouse— and coming to St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York in January. The Tempest is part of a trilogy of plays, alongside Julius Caesar and Henry IV, that take place in a women’s prison. Lloyd also directed an all-female The Taming of the Shrew for Shakespeare in the Park this summer in New York, with Cush Jumbo as Katherina.
  • The RSC’s The Tempest, starring Simon Russell Beale, attracted lots of buzz for its technological wonders. (See a screening at the Folger in March.)
  • The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York staged Richard II with David Tennant earlier this year (as part of the RSC’s King and Country cycle), as well as the U.S. premiere in November of Ivo Van Hove’s Kings of War.

Looking ahead… A new Hamlet film adaptation called Ophelia is reportedly in the works, with Daisy Ridley as the title character and Naomi Watts as Queen Gertrude.


What else should be included in this list? And what are you excited for in 2017? Tell us in the comments.

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