Shakespeare Oxford 2016 salutes the Bard in April with its own commemorative events

Stratford-on-Avon may be pulling out the stops this year, but Oxford is also holding its very own Shakespeare celebrations and in April, the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, a feast of events is set to complement those of its Warwickshire neighbour.

Oxford, just an hour away from Stratford and London, boasts some of the world’s most eminent Shakespeare scholars. Much of what we know about our greatest playwright, and the world he lived in, is thanks to their work, while the University’s libraries and museums have a treasure trove of artefacts and manuscripts and a famous history of writing and performing works from that period.

Shakespeare wanted – dead or alive

Rare treats have been planned. In April a major new exhibition at the Bodleian’s Weston Library, Shakespeare’s Dead, confronts the theme of death in the Bard’s work (opening April 22 and running until September 18 2016), featuring tragic characters such as Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, as well as ghosts and characters who come back to life. Key items from the Bodleian’s famous literary collections, such as Shakespeare’s First Folio and the first Shakespeare playbook (Romeo & Juliet), are used to explore the themes.

Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday and the opening of Shakespeare’s Dead with a special day of events at the Weston Library (April 23). Learn how to use a quill pen like the Bard and create your own portrait of Shakespeare on the Bodleian’s historic wooden printing press. Visit Creation Theatre’s Sonnet and Soliloquy booth where you can record yourself saying lines from Shakespeare’s poetry and plays.  (Creation Theatre’s booth will be in place from Friday 22 April to Sunday 24 April.)

Living Shakespeare exhibits will also be found amongst the shelves of Oxford’s public libraries as well as the Weston Library, where actors from Flintlock Theatre will be performing in character. See what happens if you present them with a red heart which matches their own (April 21 – May 1).

The Weston Library will also be hosting a series of talks by leading experts on all things Shakespeare, the April highlight of which includes Shakespeare and Magic, with Sir Jonathan Bate, speaking on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s funeral (April 25).

Lounge about with Literary Shakespeare

Shakespeare makes a high profile appearance at this year’s FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival.  The Blackwell’s Festival Marquee is the place to soak up the atmosphere, where the Shakespeare Lounge (sponsored by Oxford University Press) looks out over Oxford’s own Bridge of Sighs. Booklovers can relax with a coffee, browse a wide range of books and enjoy a variety of Shakespeare-related activities, including The Great Shakespeare Quiz (April 4) and Ask the Experts (April 8).

The play’s the thing

Shakespeare Oxford 2016 organisers are challenging the city to put on every single one of the Bard’s plays. Shakespeare gets shaken, stirred – and even psycho-analysed – in some high profile productions, together with some downright irreverent interpretations of the Bard’s work.

So far, 22 out of the 37 plays have been adopted and in April, drama lovers can see King Lear at Oxford Playhouse, with renowned actor Michael Pennington in the lead. Lear also makes an appearance (together with Titus Andronicus) in a musical performance of Elizabethan broadside ballads at Oxford Castle. Over at the O2 Academy a hip-hop version of Richard II may or may not have Shakespeare turning in his grave (April 29).

One of Oxford’s other claims to Shakespeare fame is the Painted Room and the Dark Lady. A hidden mediaeval gem, tucked away above Cornmarket Street, the Painted Room was once part of a tavern, The Crown, run by John Davenant, a theatre lover and friend of Shakespeare. It’s likely that Shakespeare stayed there, en route between London and Stratford, and may have taken a shine to Davenant’s wife Jane, who some scholars believe may be the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The Painted Room is rarely open to the public, but on April 23 and 24, special guided tours will allow visitors a glimpse of this very special place, together with scenes from Othello performed in period costume by an all-male company of actors.

The food of love: musick old and new

Music lovers are in for a treat:  Oxford echoes to the sound of sackbuts in April as singers and players recreate the music of the sixteenth century in the city’s ancient and iconic spaces. City Musick celebrates the world of Shakespeare’s London with original instruments, including songs and dance that the groundlings would have appreciated (April 23). At the North Wall Theatre, Shakespeare at the Opera features show stoppers from a talented quartet (April 15).

Music from the plays is brought to life – and up to date – in Food of Love at SJE Arts, an exciting and enthusiastically non-traditional concert by a wide variety of musicians, including Brickwork Lizards, Flights of Helios and Kirsty Law (April 22). This is an unmissable sneak preview before the launch of a new album and nationwide tour.

Poets’ and book corners

Poetry lovers can perform or listen to some of their favourite sonnets in a specially-created sound booth, courtesy of Creation Theatre, which first appears in the Weston Library and then tours to public libraries around the city (April 22 – May 7). Every month to the end of 2016, Blackwell’s will feature a Shakespeare Book of the Month, from new novels inspired by the most influential writer in history, to academic titles about his life and craft.

Events for younger audiences include a workshop on how to draw Romeo and Juliet manga style at The Story Museum (April 30), while local cinema, the Ultimate Picture Palace is showing popular films inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. April’s programme features West Side Story (April 17/18) and Ten Things I Hate About You (April 24/25).

For more information on these and all events featured in April, visit www.shakespeareoxford2016.co.uk

To delve deeper into Shakespeare, check out a new website, Illuminating Shakespeare, where each month a different theme is explored through articles, videos and interactive content. www.oup.com/shakespeare

Activities run throughout the year: to find out about all events visit www.shakespeareoxford2016.co.uk