Shakespeare in the Royal Library 2016 – 400-Year Celebration

Shakespeare Bust Royal Library

Shakespeare in the Royal Library, Attributed to John Cheere, William Shakespeare, late-18th century, courtesy Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

No one does it better than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, presenting a wonderful collection of exhibitions and displays each year at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London, the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh or at Windsor Castle in the glories of the English countryside.

The Royal Collection Trust conserves and cares for the foremost and quite extraordinary collection of fine and decorative arts in the world, held in trust by the Sovereign and her successors for the nation.

In many cases many of the holdings have given an insight, as well as expanded understanding of many famous creative people throughout history and their works, shaped by the individual preferences of the monarchs and their families who have contributed to the collection.

The Royal Collection Trust is marking the 400th anniversary of England’s most famous bard Will Shakespeare’s demise with a stunning exhibition at Windsor Castle.

Shakespeare in the Royal Library, which started on February 13, 2016, is examining aspects of the playwright and his life, work and influence as a ‘celebration of his longstanding connection with the royal court’.

Apart from a great portrait bust of Shakespeare, there will also be a portrait bust of acclaimed and celebrated English theatre actor David Garrick (1717-1779) on display.

Garrick Portrait

Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856), David Garrick c. 1791-2, Marble, courtesy Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Audiences didn’t attend the theatre during his lifetime to see or experience Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Garrick’s Hamlet because he was the man of the moment.

Tragedy, comedy or farce Garrick single handedly raised the status of an actor and made the profession a respectable one for modern celebrities to follow.

Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533-1603) was known to be a fan of Shakespeare’s works, especially his poetic, tragic and eloquent work based on the rule of King Richard II (1377 – 1399), which was written entirely in verse.

It is one of the most detailed of all the plays in the Shakespearean canon.

Good Queen Bess used Windsor Castle for many of her diplomatic engagements and Shakespeare captured a view of the back and forth flow of foreign visitors for the entertainment in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Drawn up for Henry Frederick Prince of Wales (1594-1612) in 1607 a stunning series of views part of the “Survey of Windsor’ as it is usually called was originally produced on vellum, with gold tooling.

The various components reveal the surrounding countryside around Windsor Castle as it was in the time when Shakespeare was about.

Prince Ernest Augustus, Windsor Town and Castle, 1780 courtesy Royal Collection Trust © 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Prince Ernest Augustus, Windsor Town and Castle, 1780 courtesy Royal Collection Trust © 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

It’s the same land mentioned in The Merry Wives on Windsor and some of its most famous landmarks still exist today.

The Garter Inn seen jutting out into the High Street, next to another inn called The Hart has become the Harte & Garter Hotel, which today operates on the site of both inns.

The Little Park, site of other events in the play notably Falstaff’s visit to Herne’s Oak and the Fairy Dell, also exists.

Shakespeare’s plays from sketches of Romeo and Juliet drawn by Princess Victoria to a screening of British actor Laurence Olivier’s Henry V in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor, to Prince Charles’ acting the title role in a private performance of Macbeth in 1965, it seems Shakespeare has been a continuing and significant element in royal education.

Will-Shakespeare's-SignatureThe Royal Library boasts a copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio with Charles I’s holograph annotations made shortly before his execution.

shakespeare-folio-The Third Folio was returned to the Royal Collection by William IV after George IV disposed of the King’s Library, a collection of over 60,000 scholarly books formed by his father George III, presenting it to the nation to be housed in the British Museum.

George III is believed to have intended the library to be a comprehensive resource for scholars, rather than a collection of rare volumes or fine bindings.

In other words, this was a working library rather than a showpiece, although it did contain some notable rarities.

There are paintings and other records of performances of Shakespeare within Windsor Castle, watercolours and etchings of Shakespearean scenes by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

There is also collection of ‘images and texts relating to The Merry Wives of Windsor. A particularly full collection of early photographs, many Shakespeare-related; will be included and a series of objects presented to royals in relation to theatrical openings and centenary events’ as well.

The exhibition has provided an opportunity for a major research project for highly skilled and educated students, as King George III would have wished.

No one has yet made an annotated record of performances at court during the 18th and 19th century despite the Royal Collection holding an astonishing array of materials, but that is about to change.

Professor Sir Richard Trainor PhD will conduct the project in collaboration with the Royal Collection Trust for PhD students,

‘…an interdisciplinary investigation into royal responses to Shakespeare, 1714-1901, examining the role the Shakespeare canon has had – through its place in the education, upbringing and personal and official lives of members of successive royal families and through the particular responses of individual royals to Shakespeare

King Lear on stage at The Globe, London

King Lear on stage at The Globe, London

A once in a lifetime opportunity, the successful applicants will have access to the Royal Library and Royal Archives collections as they gain an insight into the ‘…construction of royal identity and royal ideology from the beginning of the Georgian to the end of the Victorian eras’  The detailed project description says ‘Literary critics have argued fiercely over Shakespeare’s own attitude to the royal families and myths of his day, but contemporary cultural and performance histories of Shakespeare rarely address subsequent royal responses to the plays and poems except as anecdote or by way of fictional representations such as Alan Bennett’s highly successful The Madness of George III’.

Published author and Shakespeare scholar and performance historian Alycia Smith-Howard PhD, who has held academic posts in Shakespeare studies at New York University and British American Drama Academy (BADA), among others, has produced a scholarly work ‘Royal Shakespeare’ exploring the subject from within the Royal Collection.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015-2016


Shakespeare BannerShakespeare in the Royal Library

Windsor Castle
Saturday, 13 February 2016 to Sunday, 1 January 2017

Coming soon 

royal shakespeare-1ROYAL SHAKESPEARE

Alycia Smith-Howard

ISBN 978 1 909741 21 8
Hardback, 200 pages, 235 × 210 mm
200 colour illustrations

Published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, this innovative addition to Shakespeare studies approaches its subject from a new and original angle: the centuries-long association between the British monarchy and Britain’s greatest dramatist.

Download Scholarship Project Details


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