Completing the Shakespeare canon

With its two-performance special production of Henry VI, Part 3, Colorado Shakespeare Festival has completed the canon—meaning it has staged all of Shakespeare’s plays—for the second time in its 60-season history. CSF is the second-oldest Shakespeare festival in the United States.

Henry VI, Part 3, which closed on Tuesday, was one of CSF’s “original practices” productions, now in their fourth season, in which actors rehearse for just 20 hours with scripts that only contain their characters’ lines and cues. These photos are from last year’s production of Henry VI, Part 2.

So, exactly how many plays do you need to produce to say that you’ve “completed the canon”? Colorado Shakespeare Festival pegs it at 38, as does Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Utah Shakespeare Festival is more than halfway to its goal of 38 plays between 2012 and 2023 for its “Complete the Canon” initiative.

But other theaters choose different numbers: 37 at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (which does not include The Two Noble Kinsmen) and 39 at Atlanta Shakespeare Company (which includes Edward III), for example.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

OSF has completed the Shakespeare canon an astounding four times, in 1958, 1978, 1997, and 2016. Note the roughly 20-year period between each completion; OSF aims to halve that time for its fifth cycle. These photos are from Timon of Athens, the final production in the canon cycle that ended in 2016.

Timon of Athens at OSF completes the Shakespeare canon
Timon of Athens, 2016. Apemantus (Vilma Silva, center) scorns the flattery that Timon (Anthony Heald, right) receives from supposed friends like the Painter (Sarah J. Brizek) and Poet (Daniel T. Parker), who hope to entice him with their art. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Timon of Athens at OSF
Timon of Athens, 2016. Timon’s guests (Ensemble) enjoy a sumptuous feast. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company completed the canon for its 20th anniversary season in 2014 with The Two Noble Kinsmen. See a list of the plays, the years CSC performed them, and photos from the productions.

Atlanta Shakespeare Company

In March 2011, Atlanta Shakespeare Company completed the canon with repertory performances of The Two Noble Kinsmen and Edward III.

Edward III
Drew Reeves as King Edward III and Mary Russell as the Countess of Salisbury in Edward III, Atlanta Shakespeare Company, 2011. Photo by Jeff Watkins.

Atlanta Shakespeare Company, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival are theater partners of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

2 Comments


  • Another notable addition to the list of companies that have completed the canon was made on May 13th of this year, when the Walden Theatre Conservatory in Louisville Kentucky became the very first youth conservatory in the United States to complete the canon. The Walden Theatre Conservatory has enriched the lives of thousands of children over the past 41 years. It was a great pleasure for our daughter to have been able to participate in the penultimate production, King John, in the role of Prince Arthur.
    http://www.commonwealththeatre.org/2017/04/are-you-shakesperienced/

  • You forgot the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, which completed the canon with TIMON OF ATHENS in January 2014.


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