British Council announces Shakespeare Lives

Sri Lanka Poster 2.The British Council recently announced Shakespeare Lives, an unprecedented global programme of events and activities celebrating Shakespeare’s life on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.

Shakespeare Lives is an invitation to the world to join in the celebrations by participating in a unique online collaboration and experiencing the work of Shakespeare directly on stage, through film, exhibitions and in schools. The programme aims to reach over half a billion people around the world. The British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign are working with a host of British theatres, museums, educators and artists on brand new productions of Shakespeare’s plays, film adaptations, public readings and educational resources for schools and English language learners of all ages in the UK and around the world.  

British Council Sri Lanka, ever aware of Sri Lanka’s appetite for the famous bard, will be kicking off a series of exciting events, by joining with the British High Commission and the British School in Colombo, to bring London’s famous Globe Theatre to Colombo. The Globe will be performing Hamlet on 14 May 2015 at the British School in Colombo.

Keith Davies, Country Director British Council Sri Lanka said “I read Drama and English Literature at university and had the privilege of studying the works of the great William Shakespeare in both parts of my degree course. Master poet, dramatist, philosopher and social commentator it is no surprise to me that he is still revered as perhaps the greatest writer in this history of the civilised world, 400 years after his death. Some, who haven’t had the opportunity to study Shakespeare’s works, may consider them difficult or obscure, but a brief exposure to the plays on the stage or the sonnets will reveal the opposite. The truth of the human condition expressed in magical language including many phrases that have entered our everyday usage act as a testament to his genius: – “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”… “to thine own self be true” and never forget “all that glitters is not gold” and “the course of true love never did run smooth”.

Globally, Shakespeare Lives will be launched in autumn this year and run throughout 2015/16, exploring Shakespeare as a living writer who still speaks for all people and nations. Activities across English, education and the arts will explore the story of how a playwright from England came to be shared all over the globe. A major highlight will be All The World’s A Stage, a mass participation project that will invite people from all over the world to upload and share clips of themselves performing lines from Shakespeare plays. It will culminate in a record breaking, crowd-sourced performance and a new digital version of Shakespeare works.

Research carried out for the British Council in five overseas countries in 2014 showed Shakespeare’s enduring status as the UK’s greatest cultural icon in the eyes of the world. When young adults were asked to name a person they are interested in and associate with contemporary UK Arts and culture, William Shakespeare was by far the most popular response.

Other Highlights of Shakespeare Lives include:

  • A MOOC (massive open online course) aimed at intermediate level English language learners exploring the key themes and characters in Shakespeare’s plays and his continuing resonance around the world. Other teaching resources include Shakespeare-themed lesson plans for all levels, a series of webinars for English language teachers and animated Shakespeare stories for children.
  • A global short filmmaking competition in partnership with straight 8 called ‘Bitesize Bard’ that invites budding filmmakers from around the world to reinterpret one of eight iconic Shakespeare scenes in a single take. The twelve best films will be selected by a renowned panel taken from the world of theatre and film with prizes awarded.
  • Inspiring global celebrations of Shakespeare Day a downloadable toolkit will be developed in partnership with Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. It will include a Shakespeare speech available in many world languages and fun resources such as a Shakespeare quiz, Elizabethan recipes and playlists.
  • A touring programme of the best British Shakespeare films available to screen internationally in partnership with the BFI (British Film Institute). This will include everything from early silent films to new productions.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive, British Council said: “Power struggles, brutal politics, murder, love, passion, bitter feuds, human weakness and plain farce are universal themes as relevant now as they were when Shakespeare was writing. Shakespeare Lives will engage audiences overseas and in the UK with both the work of the Bard and with the best of contemporary Britain and will open up opportunities for UK institutions, businesses and organisations to work around the world, and for organisations around the world in the UK.”   

More detailed plans and partners will be announced over the coming year. Find out more at or follow the hashtag #ShakespeareLives