Welcome to Shakespeare Conferences 2016

cropped-wsc2016-logo1While I’m feeling disconnected on the other side of the world, back in Stratford-upon-Avon and London the International Shakespeare Association is holding its five-yearly World Shakespeare Congress. It begins on Sunday 31 July, continuing in Stratford until mid-week, after which the over 800 delegates move to London for the final days of the conference, ending Saturday 6 August.This will be the tenth World Shakespeare Congress: previous venues have included Berlin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. The themes will be Creating and Re-creating Shakespeare, and the speakers will “celebrate Shakespeare’s memory and the global cultural legacy of his works. Uniquely, ambitiously, fittingly, this quatercentenary World Congress will be based in not just one but two locations: in Shakespeare’s birthplace, and final resting-place, Stratford-upon-Avon; and in the city where he made his name and where his genius flourished—London.” The speakers will include Adrian Lester, the son of Jamaican immigrants to the UK, Booker-Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson on his novelistic interpretation of The Merchant of Venice, and Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the RSC, on the company’s artistic life and history. In London there will be a discussion from a panel of theatre directors and a session from the founding director of music at the Globe, Claire Van Kampen.

A number of organisations will be hosting the conference this year: in Stratford, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute; in London, Shakespeare’s Globe and the London Shakespeare Centre, King’s College London. They all look forward to welcoming delegates from around the world to share in a range of cultural and intellectual opportunities in the places where Shakespeare was born, acted, wrote and died. Writing from the other side of the globe I’m particularly aware of how special a place the UK is for those who study Shakespeare, and how special a visit can be for those who live in completely different places, even though we all feel more connected than ever before.
I’m especially sorry to be missing the Stratford Shakespeare Club’s contribution to the conference, a tea to be held at Shakespeare’s Holy Trinity Church for some of the delegates, at which those attending will be given tours of the building by those immersed in Stratford’s history. I very much hope this will be an occasion when the Club makes new and lasting friends and connections with Shakespeareans from around the world. The Club’s tradition of welcoming foreign visitors to the town dates right back to 1836, just a few years after its foundation. I hope everybody has a wonderful time at the World Shakespeare Conference.
Also coming up is another Shakespeare Conference, that organised by the British Shakespeare Association that will take place at the University of Hull from 8-11 September. It’s good to see the north of England being represented during the year of the Quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death when all eyes are, perhaps even more than usual, on Stratford and London. Its themes are Death, Life and Afterlives, and the conference, importantly, comes during the run up to 2017 when Hull is to be the UK’s City of Culture.
The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death offers us a timely opportunity to reflect upon the continuation of his life and art diachronically, spatially from the Globe across the globe, and materially on stage, page, canvas, music score, and screen. How does Shakespeare continue to haunt us? The second strand of the conference focuses on Shakespeare’s literary, dramatic, and transcultural afterlives. The conference thus also seeks to explore the various ways in which Shakespeare’s ghost has been invoked, summoned up, or warded off over the past four centuries.
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