25th April 2014 Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

23rd April is St George’s Day, the Patron Saint of England. Appropriately enough, it’s also the day one of England’s greatest ever figures – William Shakespeare – was born and died. 23rd April 2014 is particularly special as it marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. It also marks the start of a two year celebration of his life and works, culminating in commemorations for the 400th anniversary of his death on 23rd April 2016.

So I was particularly delighted to be asked to give a talk about the world’s most famous playwright at a Shakespeare Day held at Maktab Duli Sixth Form College on 23rd April. Around 390 students from 14 schools and sixth form colleges in Brunei took part.


I talked about Shakespeare’s life and times and why he had become a key figure in world literature. I talked about studying Shakespeare at school – I studied Macbeth for “O” level and Coriolanus and King Lear for “A” level. My first visit to Stratford upon Avon was as a schoolboy, when I saw a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performance of Richard II. That inspired me – over time – to get to see a professional production of every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.

I was fortunate enough to be living at that time in London, the world centre of drama, but it still took me over 10 years to track down every play (King John and Two Gentlemen of Verona were particularly tricky to find.) But today, someone could do the same feat in two years as the RSC plans to perform the whole canon between 2014 –2016.

After my talk, I walked around the school to view several theatre workshops and productions. Some of the plays were chosen because they are exam texts this year (I noticed the school had ominous countdown signs to the next exams!) One group was being quizzed on Richard III. Others were performing scenes from As You Like It, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was a lively workshop with students improvising in masks.


This is the 5th year the school has run a Shakespeare Day. Congratulations to all the teachers and students who took part. It was exhilarating to see everyone’s enthusiasm. I hope as many people as possible one day get the chance to see Shakespeare performed live on stage, including perhaps at the RSC’s spectacularly refurbished theatre in Stratford upon Avon.