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Senate House Library

Shakespeare: Metamorphosis

About the exhibition

23 April 2016 sees the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. To commemorate the event, the University of London will run its first major exhibition, Shakespeare: Metamorphosis, in Senate House Library from 14 April to 17 September 2016.

Over the last four centuries Shakespearean text and scholarship, as well as perceptions of the man himself, have undergone continuous reinvention.  Curated by Dr Karen Attar and Dr Richard Espley, and inspired by the famous ‘seven ages of man’ speech from As You Like It, Shakespeare: Metamorphosis traces and explains this 400-year transformation by highlighting and displaying over 30 rare texts from seven significant ages of development:

  • The first age explores contemporary sources of inspiration for Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets
  • The second age focuses on the production of the four folios from 1623 to 1685
  • The third age reveals the eighteenth-century love affair with the Bard and the emergence of serious scholarship
  • The fourth age traces disputes over authorship and identity throughout the nineteenth-century, as well as the publication of the first editions
  • The fifth age highlights modern scholarship, with the emergence of one authoritative text and corpus of work by the early twentieth-century
  • The sixth age celebrates the popularisation and cultural appropriation of Shakespeare around the world, reflected in the tercentenary commemorations of 1916
  • The seventh age embraces the shift to digital texts with Senate House Library producing a new bespoke website to accompany the exhibition

The exhibition is free to enter on a library day pass and visitors are encouraged to join the library at a discounted rate during the exhibition period. Please note, the free day pass allows you to access the exhibition space on the 4th floor of the library. It does not entitle you access to our reading rooms or study spaces.

Visitors will also be able to pre-book a 30-minute session with the exhibition curators, who will lead them through a series of texts focussing on the metamorphosis of the play Othello.  These sessions include access to the Shakespeare quartos and folios, as well as support material from the whole 400 years. There are only 54 of these curator-led events throughout the exhibition period, and each event will be limited to 15 people. 

All of the texts on display in the exhibition, as well as many more, will be digitised and displayed online. Online exhibits will be supported by bespoke films made by the exhibition curators explaining the context and content of the documents. The exhibition will be introduced by a film featuring actor Paterson Joseph. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to access these films in the library through their mobile devices.

Throughout the exhibition period there will be a series of free public events, bringing further life to the documents on display.  Highlights include an evening with the Fox dynasty of actors, a series of performances on 23 April, and Michael Slater’s look at Shakespeare’s influence on Dickens. 

Senate House Librarian Jackie Marfleet said:  “William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616. Four hundred years later, he is revered around the world as a literary superstar. His canon of work was first brought together in 1623 with the publication of the ‘first folio’, we are lucky to have this - and in fact all four folio - in Senate House Library. We are thrilled that we are going to be able to share these, along with many other exciting and rare documents, as part of Shakespeare: Metamorphosis, our first major exhibition. Through the exhibition and its accompanying website visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to access our excellent Shakespeare collection and to gain curatorial insight.”

Exhibitions at Senate House Library

Shakespeare: Metamorphosis ran from 14 April to 17 September 2016. The Library runs exhibition and engagement seasons throughout the year. Find out more on our exhibitions and events pages.

Senate House Library is located in Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. See information about how to find us.