This is a big year for all things Shakespeare- it’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and there will be many events and exhibitions celebrating his life and works.
Yesterday I went to one of the many exhibitions that are sure to occur as part of Shakespeare400, spearheaded by Kings College London with a variety of partners.
By Me William Shakespeare: A Life in Writing, on exhibition in KCL’s wing of Somerset house, examines Shakespeare’s time in London through 9 original documents. Four of these are signed by Shakespeare himself, and represent 4 of 6 surviving signatures, including the earliest that remains. Three are on each of his 3 page will. This is certainly one of the appeals of this small exhibition, and will be appreciated by any Shakespeare enthusiast. (I believe one of the others is on display at Guildhall right now- the deed for his house).
Besides the documents themselves, there is also text exploring different related themes- including the theatres he worked in and the court case associated with one of them, details of the will, and a royal procession, as well as an explanation exploring the connection to Somerset house- which used to be a royal residence, where his plays would have been performed, and where his will was locked in a vault with other important documents. There are also quotations from some of the plays, some graphics, a handful of relevant artifacts, a video about conservation of the documents, and a video installation about London at the time. While there is a lot of text overall, as one review I saw lamenting, I do not think it is overwhelming, since it is a small exhibition, and the text is all quite relevant, and particularly in some cases, very helpful. The text abut the will, for example, details who received what and why, and contained a key to explain how much money in present terms this would relate to. I did not get reading fatigue at all.
There was also a nice pocket sized handout that unfolded, which detailed the major spots in London associated with the documents, and a nice copy of the will on the other side. While I didn’t really use it in the exhibition, it is a nice souvenir to have.
I think one of the drawbacks is that, while some of the context is quite interesting, and seeing the signature of the Bard himself is appealing, that you may need to be a bit of a diehard fan (of either Shakespeare or archives) to enjoy the exhibition to its fullest. It is well put together, but essentially, it is 9 pages of more or less illegible writing. So, if you’re in the area, a hard core shakespeare, archives, library, or penmanship fan, or a student (free admission! maybe only for KCL students though..) definitely stop by. It is worth it. Otherwise, you may find it hit or miss to go out of your way specifically for it. Maybe combine a stop here with a visit to the Courtauld or National Gallery.
To learn more about the exhibition, on until May 29, and other Shakespeare400 events- exhibits, performances, installations, etc- visit:
Have you visited? What did you think? Any other Shakespeare events or exhibitions in London you think are worth attending? Do you know where the 6th signature is? Is it at his birthplace?