British Council Announces Shakespeare Lives

Thursday, 23 April 2015


The British Council today announced Shakespeare Lives, an unprecedented global programme of events and activities celebrating Shakespeare’s life on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016. 

Shakespeare Lives is an invitation to the world to join in the celebrations by participating in a unique online collaboration and experiencing the work of Shakespeare directly on stage, through film, exhibitions and in schools. The programme aims to reach over half a billion people around the world. The British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign are working with host of British theatres, museums, educators and artists on brand new productions of Shakespeare’s plays, film adaptations, public readings and educational resources for schools and English language learners of all ages in the UK and around the world.  

Engaging over half a billion people

Launching this autumn, Shakespeare Lives will run throughout 2016, exploring Shakespeare as a living writer who still speaks for all people and nations. Activities across English, education and the arts will explore the story of how a playwright from England came to be shared all over the globe. A major highlight will be All The World’s A Stage, a mass participation project that will invite people from all over the world to upload and share clips of themselves performing lines from Shakespeare plays. It will culminate in a record breaking, crowd-sourced performance and a new digital version of Shakespeare works. 

Research carried out for the British Council in five overseas countries in 2014 showed Shakespeare’s enduring status as the UK’s greatest cultural icon in the eyes of the world. When young adults were asked to name a person they are interested in and associate with contemporary UK Arts and culture, William Shakespeare was by far the most popular response. 

Other Highlights of Shakespeare Lives include: 

 -Screenings of leading Shakespeare productions including the film of Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre’s Hamlet starring Maxine Peake as well as a new film adaptation of a Shakespeare play developed by Indian and UK Asian filmmakers.

-A MOOC (massive open online course) aimed at intermediate level English language learners exploring the key themes and characters in Shakespeare’s plays and his continuing resonance around the world. Other teaching resources include Shakespeare-themed lesson plans for all levels, a series of webinars for English language teachers and animated Shakespeare stories for children.

-The British Council is offering ten research and development grants for artists and companies to develop new collaborative project ideas with counterparts overseas.

-A global tour of Royal Society of Literature poets who have written responses to the Sonnets. There will also be opportunities for emerging poets and graphic novelists from around the world.

-Sonnets on the Underground - a collaboration with Bloomsbury Publishing that will see Poems on the Underground’s popular London programme replicated in other cities. 

-A global short filmmaking competition in partnership with straight 8 called ‘Bitesize Bard’ that invites budding filmmakers from around the world to reinterpret one of eight iconic Shakespeare scenes in a single take. The twelve best films will be selected by a renowned panel taken from the world of theatre and film with prizes awarded.

-A new education pack developed with the RSC, exploring some of the broad themes that run across his writing – themes that still have a resonance to people all over the world today. The pack will be distributed to all 25,000 schools in the UK and will be promoted around the world through the British Council’s school network

-A series of workshops and public panel discussions on Shakespeare in translation involving world renowned academics, experts and performers in partnership with the National Centre for Writing and Shakespeare’s Globe.

-Inspiring global celebrations of Shakespeare Day a downloadable toolkit will be developed in partnership with Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. It will include a Shakespeare speech available in many world languages and fun resources such as a Shakespeare quiz, Elizabethan recipes and playlists.  

-World Voice, the British Council’s international singing programme for young people, will commission a special Shakespeare-inspired song that will feature in the World Voice songbook. The song will be used in World Voice workshops and teacher training sessions around the world, and will be sung by children at a variety of events during 2016.

-A touring programme of the best British Shakespeare films available to screen internationally in partnership with the BFI. This will include everything from early silent films to new productions.

Rob Lynes, Director British Council, India said: “Power struggles, brutal politics, murder, love, passion, bitter feuds, human weakness and plain farce are universal themes as relevant now as they were when Shakespeare was writing. Shakespeare Lives will engage audiences overseas and in the UK with both the work of the Bard and with the best of contemporary Britain and will open up opportunities for UK institutions, businesses and organisations to work around the world, and for organisations around the world in the UK.”  

British Council in India is also developing a whole range of exciting events focused on Shakespeare for 2016. Detailed plans and partners will be announced over the coming year. Find out more at or follow the hashtag #ShakespeareLives

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. 


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