By me William Shakespeare at Somerset House

By me William Shakespeare at Somerset House - DSC_2763Portrait by David Maghradze

Go deep into the life and times of William Shakespeare and get a close look at original documents related to his career and personal affairs at a new By me William Shakespeare exhibition at Somerset House.

Opening today (3 February), By me William Shakespeare marks the first joint exhibition by The National Archives and King’s College London. For the show, record specialists at The National Archives and academics from the London Shakespeare Centre at King’s College London – the world’s foremost centre for the study of Shakespeare – have selected six of Britain’s most important documents held by The National Archives relating to Shakespeare’s life. These include Shakespeare’s Last Will and Testament as well as four of six known signatures in existence alongside related artefacts and digital installations.

As part of Shakespeare400, a year of events marking Shakespeare’s cultural impact over four centuries, the exhibition provides fresh insights into the life
of the Bard and invites visitors to consider Shakespeare not only as a great writer but as a businessman, a family man, a servant to the King and maybe even a shady character.

Documents highlighting key moments in Shakespeare’s life include the following:

Court papers following the daring “theft” (possibly involving Shakespeare himself) of materials from a rival theatre on one side of the Thames to create The Globe on the other side of the river;

Royal papers showing payments to Shakespeare for his Boxing Day performances of new plays for James I’s wife Queen Anne and that Shakespeare took part in James I’s coronation procession, marking his honorary and privileged position at court;

Court papers capturing the trial and retribution against those involved in the failed Essex Rebellion of 1601 in which Shakespeare’s “subversive” play Richard II was used by Essex’s supporters to stoke insurrection; and

Shakespeare’s deposition in the courts over a disputed dowry payment provide insights into how he might have spoken and his earliest recorded signature.

Adding to the historical context of the show is its setting. Somerset House saw early performances of a number of Shakespeare’s plays and housed his will for many years.

By me William Shakespeare runs from now until 29 May 2016 at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House, the Strand, WC2R 1LA. For more information and to book tickets, go to

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Chris Osburn is the founder, administrator and editor of tikichris. In addition to blogging, he works as a freelance journalist, photographer, consultant and curator.
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