We've always thought celebrating anniversaries of death was a bit of an odd concept, but any excuse to honour Shakespeare is a good one. The Bard knocked off some time early in 1616 and to mark four centuries elapsing since this sad day, London's biggest-name cultural and educational institutions are celebrating with a year-long shebang, Shakespeare400.
The notional aim of the festival is to take Shakespeare out of the chocolate-box heritage-industry and explore one man's massive influence on pretty much everything. We wouldn't describe this as urgently required in a city that's recently had King Lear with actual sheep, but we look forward to such creative jaunts as an aboriginal Australian King Lear, the 37 plays performed with everyday objects on a table and a Shakespearean Son et Lumière.
Fans of the histories will be treated to a four-play marathon of Henrys and Richards as Gregory Doran directs the second tetralogy, while those who appreciate experimental updates might enjoy Ivo Van Hove's modern mashup of the first tetralogy, Kings of War — if anyone can pull this off, it's the acclaimed director of A View From The Bridge.
Those who prefer their Shakespeare on screen are also in for a treat. The Barbican does a double bill of Trevor Nunn: catch Ian McKellen as Macbeth and Judi Dench as his lady wife (1979) and the American Civil War-set Othello with McKellan, Willard White, Zoe Wanamaker and Imogen Stubbs (1989).
More recent productions include Baz Luhrmann's pop-soundtracked Romeo + Juliet (a.k.a. Leonardo diCaprio + Clare Danes) from 1996 and a television film of Doran's 2008 mega-hit Hamlet with David Tennant, filmed on location in an abandoned seminary in north London. The BFI Southbank announces its full Shakespeare on Film programme in February.
It's not just drama. Listen to the classical canon's take on Shakespeare, from Schumann to Shostakovich, Strauss to Sibelius, Beethoven to Berlioz, by the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and watch flickering 1920s screenings of Hamlet and the Merchant of Venice with live accompaniments.
Two blockbusters and two little gems here. The British Library leads us through Shakespeare in Ten Acts, exploring a score of key performances that made Shakespeare the cultural hero he has become, while Somerset House brings together key documents, including Will's will, at By Me: William Shakespeare a Life in Writing. Over at the Guildhall Galleries are two small displays, one of a deed signed by Shakespeare and their First Folio, one of Vischer's 1616 engraving of London and a modern reaction to this full of clues, a sort of Renaissance Where's Wally.
Talks and tours
Fittingly for a man of letters, there are many, many talks scheduled on all things Shakespearean. Doran and friends discuss filming Shakespeare, Tennant and co talk Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, and Guildhall's Principal Librarian looks at the First Folio and contemporary printed material.
Another year of Shakespeare: get booking.