Shakespeare’s official birthday, April 23rd, is usually celebrated in Stratford-upon-Avon with a procession, the laying of flowers on the playwright’s grave, a ceremonial lunch which features the presentation of the annual Pragnell prize for lifetime services to Shakespeare, and a designated Birthday Performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
This year, things are necessarily rather different, but the celebrations, though online, are as enthusiastic as always. The university’s Shakespeare Institute is delighted to be supporting the RSC’s ‘Share your Shakespeare’ campaign, whereby Shakespeare’s admirers are invited to post Shakespearean mini-performances, images and memes on social media using the hashtags #shareyourshakespeare @thersc.
Posts to date include students reciting favourite sonnets and the Director of the Institute demonstrating, to illustrate a line from Macbeth, how to put a poor cat in an adage. On Wednesday April 22nd and Thursday 23rd, moreover, at 10pm, the Institute's Professor Ewan Fernie and Birmingham honorary graduand Adrian Lester will be appearing on a special edition of BBC Radio 3's 'Free Thinking' programme, discussing Shakespeare's presence in the civic life of Birmingham and the popular culture of the world.
Thanks to the continuing generosity of the Pragnell family, meanwhile, the annual Pragnell Shakespeare Award will be given as always in 2020, though its recipient (chosen as ever by representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the RSC, and the Shakespeare Institute), the distinguished actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, will in the first instance be delivering her acceptance speech as a 30-minute Instagram video.
One other live event has migrated online too: former Shakespeare Institute PhD student, Fellow, Professor and ultimately Director, now Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Professor Sir Stanley Wells, our greatest living Shakespearean scholar, is giving four lectures to mark his 90th birthday on the theme of ‘What Was Shakespeare Really Like?’ These were to have been given to live audiences in Stratford-upon-Avon, but they will now be made available as a series of free audio downloads, starting on April 23rd.