Shakespeare Comes Alive at Westminster Abbey
23rd April is a special date in the literary and theatrical worlds, as it marks the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 1616. It is also used as the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday as no birth records were kept to know for sure, however church records indicate he was baptised on 26th April so it can be assumed he was born a few days prior to this. Although Shakespeare is remembered all year round at Westminster Abbey with his memorial in Poets’ Corner, we are celebrating this occasion with a special event in partnership with Shakespeare’s Globe.
Mark Rylance and Shakespeare’s Globe are bringing a company of 25 actors to Westminster Abbey to perform two nights of Shakespearean theatre and poetry. The performance is called All the places that the Eye of Heaven Visits and is a collection of Shakespeare’s drama, poetry and song. It will be a ‘promenade’ style performance where the audience will move around the Abbey between actors and different staging areas at their own pace. As they work their way around the Abbey, the audience will hear Shakespeare’s iconic words whilst standing by the tombs of kings and queens and Shakespeare’s memorial. In between viewing these performances audiences will have opportunities to sit in the Abbey’s amazing space and reflect on what they have just seen. The performance will be made all the more special by the fact that two of the subjects of Shakespeare’s plays are buried within Westminster Abbey: Henry V and Richard II.
Richard II can be seen in a magnificent portrait which hangs by the coronation chair near the west door of the Abbey. This wood panel painting is the earliest known portrait of an English monarch, and dates from the 1390. He was not a popular king and was deposed and imprisoned in 1399; he died shortly after this, most probably of starvation. He was originally buried in a friary in Langley, but when Henry V came to the throne he ordered that the body be removed and taken to Westminster Abbey and buried in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor.
Henry V died at Vincennes in August 1422 and his body initially rested in Rouen Cathedral before returning to England and finally being brought to the Abbey in November 1422. Henry had directed that a chantry chapel be raised over his body at the eastern end of St Edward the Confessor’s chapel. His tomb was completed in around 1431 and the chantry above it was built between 1437 and 1450.
These tombs in the Abbey will form an important part of these special performances and bring to life the true history of Shakespeare’s dramas. If you would like to find out more about Shakespeare or shop our range of Shakespeare products please click here.