At an online ceremony hosted from the hall of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford on the afternoon of December 10th, a selection of the Institute’s distinguished honorary fellows and honorary graduands paid tribute to the extraordinary resilience and ingenuity of the MA and PhD students who completed their research dissertations in 2020 even while the world’s archives and theatres were closed.
Passing on their congratulations were:
- Sir Simon Russell Beale (who, as the last guest speaker of the term, gave an interview just before the ceremony about his experiences with Shakespeare from his dressing room at the Bridge Theatre in London);
- Sir Kenneth Branagh (who, since his own day was taken up with his 60th birthday celebration, had sent a specially-recorded video message);
- Professor Peter Holland (a former Director of the Institute who is now Chair of the International Shakespeare Association);
- Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who at first wore a mask with the word ‘Congratulations’ written on it;
- Vivien Heilbron, actress and teacher of acting;
- Dame Janet Suzman (whose portrait by Hans Schwarz hangs on the Institute’s main staircase and whose personal archive is one treasure of the Institute’s library);
- Professor Marjorie Garber, of Harvard;
- Dame Harriet Walter;
- and, presenting the Tom Matheson and Stanley Wells prizes for outstanding MA dissertations, Professor Sir Stanley Wells, himself a former PhD student, Fellow, and Director of the Institute.
L-R: Marjorie Garber, Janet Suzman, Gregory Doran, Kenneth Branagh, Harriet Walter, Simon Russell Beale
In the evening there followed the Shakespeare Institute’s legendary Christmas party, this year redesigned as an online event. One advantage to running the party on Zoom – under the capable guidance of PhD student Michael Bartelle, experienced convenor of social events for the Institute’s student-run British Graduate Shakespeare Conference – was that the virtual revels could welcome many guests from the Institute’s networks of collaborators and well-wishers worldwide.
Professor Cong Cong of Nanjing University, co-director of the Shakespeare Centre, China, had got up at 3am local time to be present; Professor Li-Lan Yong of the National University of Singapore and founder of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive, who will be co-teaching an online module with the Institute in autumn 2021 on Asian performances of Shakespeare, sent a video greeting instead. Video messages were also received from each of the Shakespeare libraries supported by the Institute across Europe – the Munich Shakespeare Library in Germany, Shakespeare Corner at Craiova University in Romania, and the library of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre in Zaporizhzhia – and congratulations to the graduands were also conveyed from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, from Elsinore in Denmark, from STNT (the Shakespeare society of Henan Normal University in China), from the Spanish and Portugese Society for Renaissance Studies, from the Asian Shakespeare Association, from the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft, and from the president of the Societé Française Shakespeare, who sang carols for good measure.
A live performance of Shakespeare-based rap was provided from New York by the Brooklyn rapper Devon ‘The Sonnet Man’ Glover (pictured, right), and other performers at the party included the Elizabethan pronunciation specialist Ben Crystal, RSC associate artists Amanda Harris and Katy Stephens, the artistic director of Flute Theatre, Kelly Hunter MBE, and the Institute’s own Leverhulme-funded postdoctoral fellow Dr Jessica Chiba, whose band CatHatFiddle supplied a performance on video of the appropriately festive ‘Christmas in LA’
Less than a week after its successful online conference with the Russian Shakespeare Centre in Moscow, this remarkable celebration provided a further demonstration of the Institute’s place as a hub of Shakespearean scholarship and performance worldwide.