Shakespeare Lives

A global celebration of William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death

What is Shakespeare Lives?

In 2016, we invited the world to take part in a programme of events and activities celebrating the world's most famous playwright, William Shakespeare, as a writer for all people and nations.

Shakespeare Lives in 2016 anniversary trailer.

Scroll down to see some of our highlights.


The digitally remastered film of this Academy Award-winning adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was included in our touring package of outstanding British film adaptations of Shakespeare's work, delivered by the British Council, the British Film Institute, Film London and other partners.
Image credit: Romeo and Juliet, Dir. Franco Zeffirelli, Paramount and Park Circus, 1968

Shakespeare has long played an important role in the British Council’s work, promoting a friendly knowledge and understanding across the world.

Sir Ian Mckellen holding a quote stating 'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players'

Sir Ian McKellen at Midsummer Nights Festival in Moscow.
Image credit: Valeriy Belboeev

Working in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI), we organised an international tour of British films which have reimagined Shakespeare’s work. Our programme ambassador, Sir Ian McKellen, travelled to India, China and Russia to introduce the films at a series of popular public events.

Screening of Henry V for refugees in Kurdistan Region, Iraq.
Image credit: Yad Deen

Screening of Henry V for refugees in Kurdistan Region, Iraq.
Image credit: Yad Deen

I’m here as an actor to promote Shakespeare and as a long-standing friend of Russia and an openly gay man.

Sir Ian McKellen

We held more than 900 screenings of the BFI film collection, attended by people in over 100 countries, including the residents of a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Screening of Henry V for refugees in Kurdistan Region, Iraq.
Image credit: Yad Deen

Screening of Henry V for refugees in Kurdistan Region, Iraq.
Image credit: Yad Deen

Shakespeare Lives short film collection

With films viewed over three million times, the collection reinterprets Shakespeare's most famous works while showcasing the diversity and breadth of the UK’s creative sector.

Dear Mister Shakespeare, a short film, explores racial tensions in Othello.

Dear Mister Shakespeare, one of the films in the collection, is written by Phoebe Boswell. In the film, Phoebe recites a rhetorical letter to Shakespeare on how racial tensions in Othello resonate today.

Another film in the collection, Star Cross'd, is poet and writer Laura Dockrill’s contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet, set on a British beach where ‘two houses, both alike in common crime’ wage an ice-cream war.

Theatre and Dance

Promotional still for Rosalind.Image credit: James Cousins Company and David Foulkes

Promotional still for Rosalind.
Image credit: James Cousins Company and David Foulkes

The British Council’s research and development fund, Shakespeare Reworked, sparked a number of new international theatre and dance projects.

The commissions challenged theatre companies to collaborate, develop, workshop and perform a unique interpretation of Shakespeare's work.

Dancers rehearsing in Rosalind.Image credit: James Cousins Company and David Foulkes

Dancers rehearsing in Rosalind.
Image credit: James Cousins Company and David Foulkes

Rosalind, a dance reworking of As You Like It by James Cousins Company and Korean dancers, explores the gender-fluidity of Shakespeare’s work in a contemporary East Asian society.

Another performance, The Dreamer, produced by Gecko and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, celebrated two 400th anniversaries: Shakespeare and his Chinese contemporary, Tang Xianzu. The play was inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tang Xianzu’s The Four Dreams of Linchuan.

It was the perfect opportunity to bring together connections. Tang Xianzu has equal responsibility for connecting the UK and China through the arts.

Chris Evans, Movement Director, The Dreamer (The Stage,17 November 2016)

It's your turn to be the director

Mix the Play is an interactive digital platform that invites people anywhere in the world to discover Shakespeare’s plays by directing their own custom scene.

Using film samples and effects, you can control a range of elements, including casting, setting, costumes, acting style and music.

The end result is your own vision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream staged at The Old Vic Theatre or Romeo and Juliet’s famous balcony scene, set in India.

Image credit: The Old Vic Theatre, London

For the first time in its history, Shakespeare's Globe shared a live production with the world.

Emma Rice's Bollywood-inspired A Midsummer Night's Dream was live streamed for the BBC Shakespeare Lives international online festival, co-curated with the British Council.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe, 2016.Image credit: Steve Tanner

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe, 2016.
Image credit: Steve Tanner

The range of content produced for the BBC Shakespeare Lives international online festival enabled audiences around the world to experience Shakespeare's work, reinterpreted by artists across all art forms.

Image credit: Steve Tanner

Keep scrolling for more highlights from Shakespeare Lives.


Spoken word artist Deanna Rodger and a team of facilitators worked with young people in the Horn of Africa to create original performance poetry, using Shakespeare's sonnets as a catalyst to explore the lives and experiences of people living in Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Image credit: Idreesy, British Council Sudan, Dan Tsu

Throughout the year, contemporary UK and international poets collaborated to create responses to Shakespeare's sonnets.

In a UK-Korea exchange, we paired artists with poets to develop new graphic sonnets.

The illustrations demonstrated what Shakespeare means to poets and artists in a modern world.

It is proof that a shared emotional response to great art can bring together a bard from four centuries ago, a Yorkshire-based writer, and a Korean cartoonist.

Ben Wilkinson, UK poet

Shakespeare’s sonnets examine what it means to be human.

On Shakespeare's Sonnets: A Poets' Celebration is a new collection of responses to the sonnets from contemporary poets.

The anthology, commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature, King's College London and the British Council, probes our relationship to the sonnets today through their investigation of sexuality, wit and memory.

Jackie Kay's response to Sonnet 11, Thirty Five, is named after the hospital ward her mother stayed in. 

The Poetry Archive recorded some of the poets reading the sonnets along with their new responses.


A government school student at a Shakespeare Lives showcase in Gaborone, Botswana. Schoolchildren performed scenes from Twelfth Night as well as their own interpretations of Shakespeare's work.
Image credit: Monirul Bhuiyan

Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into over 100 languages and are studied by half the world’s school children.

Together with the Royal Shakespeare Company, we created the Shakespeare Lives schools pack, a teaching resource which uses Shakespeare’s plays to interrogate the human experience and explore what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century.

The pack includes two special edition World Voice Shakespeare songs to develop young students' musicality and support wider learning.

Macbeth animation screened on Shakespeare Lives in Schools Day, with a special voiceover from Fiona Shaw CBE.

Schools around the world entered our competition to contribute to the retelling of Macbeth using photography, illustrations and more.

Image credit: Sparks Centre for Creative Learning, Sri Lanka

Students can gain a lot from exploring Shakespeare's use of language.

Speaking English today means speaking Shakespeare’s words. He introduced hundreds of words and idioms still used today like ‘fashionable’, ‘excitement’ and ‘love is blind’.

In partnership with FutureLearn and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, our free online English language course looked at the life and works of Shakespeare, and how his words still influence the English language.

Trailer for Exploring English: Shakespeare course.

The course explored five of Shakespeare’s plays with the help of actors and experts from around the world who examined the universal themes of his work.

Image credit: Hannah Berry

Take-over projects

A specially liveried Shakespeare train to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death as part of British Council’s UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016, the Poetry on the Metro and #artmetro project.
Image credit: Dmitriy Smirnov

Shakespeare Lives reached far beyond theatre walls.

Throughout the year, public spaces became home to a series of Shakespeare-inspired happenings - from exhibitions in metro stations and branded train carriages and buses, to apps, interactive games and flashmobs.

Scene IV theatre company performing in Sao Paolo's metro.
Image credit: Rodolfo Rizzo Gaudencio

Scene IV theatre company performing in Sao Paolo's metro.
Image credit: Rodolfo Rizzo Gaudencio

We used social media platforms to engage modern audiences with Shakespeare in new, innovative and creative ways.

Sir Patrick Stewart launched a social media campaign using a special Shakespeare emoji, encouraging Twitter users to participate in the celebrations for Shakespeare Day with the hashtag #ShakespeareLives.

The emoji appeared when users included #ShakespeareLives in their tweets.Image credit: Twitter

The emoji appeared when users included #ShakespeareLives in their tweets.
Image credit: Twitter

In another social media campaign, #ShakespeareNoFilter, we used Instagram to introduce three of Shakespeare’s plays to a generation of young people.

Romeo and Juliet promotional still. Follow the story on Instagram.
Image credit: National Youth Theatre

For one of the #ShakespeareNoFilter re-tellings, we adapted the National Youth Theatre's stage production of Romeo and Juliet for Instagram.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7

Explore Shakespeare Lives resources and activities

The Sam Wanamaker Festival 2015 at Shakespeare's Globe, one of the winning entries from the Shakespeare Lives in photography competition.
Image credit: Cesare De Giglio

Our partners

Shakespeare Lives was funded by the British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign, and delivered in partnership with:

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Department for International Trade (DIT)
Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)