29 October 2015

Global Celebration of William Shakespeare to reach millions

  • The British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign announce Shakespeare Lives, a major global programme for 2016 celebrating Shakespeare’s works and his influence on culture, education and society on the 400th anniversary of his death.
  • An unparalleled breadth of creative partnerships including a major partnership with UK-based charity Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) to use the power of Shakespeare’s anniversary year to give real help to children in some of the world’s poorest communities and to  raise funds and awareness of their work in education globally.
  • An opportunity for millions of people across the world in over 140 countries to actively participate in an unique digital collaboration as well as experience Shakespeare’s works directly through brand new productions of his plays, film, exhibitions, public readings and educational resources.

The British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign today announced Shakespeare Lives, a global programme celebrating Shakespeare’s work and influence which will run from January to December 2016.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP commented: "Shakespeare is one of our greatest literary exports - 400 years after his death, his works continue to thrill audiences of all ages right across the world, and are a source of inspiration for film directors, writers, artists and more.  I'm delighted that Shakespeare Lives will be recognising one of our most celebrated writers of all time."

The GREAT Britain Campaign partners leading Shakespeare Lives are the British Council, Education UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Trade and Investment and VisitBritain.

Since his earliest plays Shakespeare has inspired entire generations - world leaders, writers, film makers, artists, composers and performers have all turned to Shakespeare to reflect their own lives and times and change the course of history.

Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive, British Council added: “William Shakespeare is one of the most enduring examples of cultural impact and relations. His works have not only inspired the broadest range of artistic endeavour and motivated political change but also given people from all walks of life a platform for self-expression through the genius of his language. Working with a range of partners, the British Council will help the world rediscover and celebrate the extent of his global impact through Shakespeare Lives.”

Celebrating the enduring influence of one of the world’s greatest playwrights and poets, Shakespeare Lives will not only explore his global legacy but also continue to demonstrate how his stories, themes and language are relevant in the modern world and must remain central to the lives of future generations.

Shakespeare Lives is possible due to the unprecedented number of partnerships and collaborations between the British Council, the GREAT Britain campaign partners and organisations including the BBC, the BFI (British Film Institute), the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare 400 consortium, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Shakespeare’s Globe.

From a unique online collaboration to performances on stage and film, exhibitions, public readings, conversations and debates and educational resources for classrooms and English language learners, people around the world in over 140 countries and of all ages will have the chance to actively participate and get involved throughout the year.

While half the world’s school children study Shakespeare today, there are still 250 million children who cannot read or write. The Shakespeare Lives partnership with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) will support their work to help more children have access to education worldwide.

Dr Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive, VSO said: “When studying Shakespeare, children learn valuable lessons in love, life and creativity. However when millions of children cannot read, they become cut off from learning those lessons that literature can offer. We believe that every child deserves an education. It’s a direct route out of poverty but in many countries teachers are poorly trained and pupils are excluded from classrooms because of their gender or ability.  Our volunteers work hard to improve the education outcomes of children across the world and this partnership will shine a light on the great work they do.”

Shakespeare is a catalyst to inspire others to more and greater creativity, building the collective creative genius in all of us. With Shakespeare Lives in 2016 he will also help us to support, encourage and fund education, literacy and learning worldwide.

Major highlights in the programme include:

  • A mass participation digital campaign, Play Your Part, launched on Twelfth Night in January 2016 to support VSO’s fundraising for their work in education;
  • The British Council and BBC Arts are collaborating with key cultural partners to showcase the best of modern British Shakespeare for international audiences. This includes an online ‘Shakespeare Day Live’ on 23 April 2016 and a six month ‘Shakespeare Lives’ online festival;
  • A schools pack created in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company and available in translation. The pack will explore themes of global citizenship through Shakespeare’s plays and characters such as leadership and power, identity, equality and justice. Distributed to 32,000 schools in the UK and 100,000 schools worldwide with access to video clips from RSC performances;
  • New interactive materials for English language learners of all ages, including a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, exploring the relevance of Shakespeare on the FutureLearn platform;
  • A global touring programme in association with the BFI, the largest ever organized by the British Council, of twenty great interpretations of Shakespeare's works for the cinema from the BFI National Archive, including Silent Shakespeare, Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968) and Richard Loncraine‎'s Richard III (1995) starring Ian McKellen, who is also spearheading the BFI’s Shakespeare on Film season starting in April.
  • National Theatre Live Shakespeare films will also be made available globally alongside screenings of historically-acclaimed and ground-breaking contemporary Shakespeare productions, including the international premiere of the film of Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre’s Hamlet starring Maxine Peake.
  • Commissions from cutting-edge artists from the UK’s creative sector including Viktoria Modesta, David Wilson and a collaboration with SBTV and UK grime artists who will create their own personal responses to popular Shakespeare moments to inspire young audiences globally to explore his work and enter a creative competition to submit their own response to Shakespeare. These films will be available to view online as well as potentially being showcased at film festivals throughout the year;
  • A series of essays written by leading contemporary figures will explore  Shakespeare’s enduring importance and relevance today and for future generations;
  • A series of literary translation workshops around the world in partnership with Shakespeare’s Globe, the British Centre for Literary Translation and Writers’ Centre Norwich which bring together translators, writers, actors, directors and academics to explore the cultural and linguistic challenges and complexities of translating Shakespeare’s plays and poetry.
  • Other initiatives include leading UK and international poets invited to respond to Shakespeare’s sonnets in new ways; Meera Syal and Steven Berkoff at the Emirates Literature Festival in UAE; Tim Crouch in Malaysia and New Zealand; The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company delivering a series of workshop tours, live performances and professional development programmes across Sudan, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia; a new production of Romeo and Juliet created by Graeae Theatre Company and Dhaka Theatre, Bangladesh, through a long-term training programme with disabled adults; and intercultural theatre company Terra Nova Productions performing The Belfast Tempest at the Titanic Docks in Belfast with an international cast of over 200.

For programme details visit and follow #ShakespeareLives 

For more information contact
Mary Doherty, Senior Press Officer // 0207 389 3144


Notes to Editor

Shakespeare Lives partners include:

Bloomsbury Press
Film London
Graeae Theatre Company
King’s College London
Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre
National Theatre Live
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Society for Literature
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Shakespeare Institute
Shakespeare Memorial Library
Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF)
Shakespeare 400 Consortium
The Poetry Archive (at the South Bank)
University of Birmingham
University of East Anglia
Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO)
Women in Film & TV
World Shakespeare Congress
Writer’s Centre Norwich 


About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.