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Written by Aneta Mancewicz, Kingston University, UK
For centuries, Shakespeare’s plays have been at the heart of European culture. Owing to their canonical status in European drama and theatre, they have been used both to reflect on and to advance aesthetic, social and political transformations in Europe. Over time, they have served to develop theatrical and cultural patterns, to stimulate social, political and historical changes, to form the notion of nationhood in individual countries, and to shape a sense of common European identity.
Performances of Shakespeare’s plays on the Continent date back to his lifetime. Between the end of the 16th century and the reopening of theaters in England in 1660, English companies successfully toured vast and diverse geopolitical areas, including today’s Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic and Russia. The English actors staged the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries at imperial and royal courts, fencing schools, town markets, inn-yards, churches and churchyards. They adapted the scripts and adjusted their performance style for audiences of widely ranging status, education, wealth, religion, ethnicity and language.