Death does become him: 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death

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To coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on 23 April, the University of Melbourne is holding a program of lectures, exhibitions, performances and screenings to celebrate the legacy of the world’s most revered poet and playwright.

Gerry Higgins Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies David McInnis is one of the nation’s foremost Shakespeare experts, specialising in lost plays and theatre history.

Dr McInnis said the impact and influence of Shakespeare’s work is global and far-reaching in the way it has changed literature and language.

“Shakespeare’s plays were amongst the precious few books brought to Australia by Captain Cook on his ship, The Endeavour,” Dr McInnis said.

“His plays were performed consistently in Australia throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries and have a strong role in shaping Australian literary history.

“The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death allows us to pause and reflect on the endurance of his legacy and the way contemporary life still finds affinity with the stories, language and insights of the Bard.”

University of Melbourne Vice-Principal (Engagement) Adrian Collette said that for four centuries Shakespeare’s works have prompted profoundly imaginative lines of enquiry, morally, historically, even scientifically.

“Shakespeare’s artistry not only holds a mirror up to nature; his words now influence the way we feel and think,” he said.

The University of Melbourne will celebrate Shakespeare's life and work with an extensive and provocative suite of events and activities, including performances of key plays and the exhibition After Shakespeare, which will showcase the University’s Shakespeare second folio (1632) and a Gold Rush era prompt book of Anthony and Cleopatra from the Theatre Royal production (1856).

Shakespeare facts and figures for Australia:

A University of Melbourne survey found Romeo and Juliet is Australia’s favourite play. Dr McInnis said this can be attributed in part to the success of the Baz Luhrmann film.

Movie adaptations are overwhelmingly the most common way people receive their Shakespeare.

“Australia’s top four favourite plays have all had movie adaptations which has increased their appeal. These are, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth and Hamlet,” Dr McInnis said.

“Shakespeare would have loved to have known about this far-reaching influence as he was a master of adapting stories.”

The data show that women tend to prefer the romantic tragedies and lighter plays but men like tales of power and revenge.

People’s engagement with Shakespeare is driven significantly by their high school Shakespeare exposure. Age, not gender, drives the differences in engagement with Shakespeare.

However, Shakespeare enthusiasts who love live theatre maintain their passion for longer. Most people engaged with Shakespeare more than five years ago.

“Our investigations showed those who engaged most recently with Shakespeare are 18-29 year olds – presumably based on recent high school and University studies. Older Australians are less engaged with Shakespeare with 20 per cent of those over 40 having never engaged with Shakespeare,” Dr McInnis said.

“While many people suggest they are not engaged with Shakespeare, they may not realise they use Shakespearean terms in everyday conversation such as, “tower of strength, love is blind, green-eyed monster, wear your heart on your sleeve and many more.”