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DMU expert proves Shakespeare was 'legend in his own lifetime' for national BBC project

A Shakespeare expert from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has played a key role in a new BBC project looking at the popularity and impact of the Bard’s work in his own lifetime.

Dr Siobhan Keenan, Reader in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at DMU, has unearthed fresh evidence that the playwright’s famous works were an immediate hit, being performed across England by numerous theatre groups in the 16th and 17th century.

The tales, journals and records which Dr Keenan uncovered during her research form part of a new BBC website called Shakespeare on Tour, launched today.

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The site gives readers a new insight into what audiences in Shakespeare’s day were like, how his plays were received and where they were performed – both by Shakespeare’s own troupe and many admiring smaller drama groups.

The stories discovered by Dr Keenan – along with dozens of others found in archives by other academics across the country – feature on the Shakespeare on Tour website and will be broadcast and discussed on BBC Local Radio stations between now and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 22.

Dr Keenan said: “Perhaps the most exciting thing we’ve found in this project is that Shakespeare’s plays weren’t confined to London. He and other players were touring them all over the country.

“You begin to see that Shakespeare’s reputation began to be national even in his own time, something which no playwright had really achieved before.

“I think this is because he had to cater for such a wide range of people, which pushed him to make plays which are rich, complex, funny and serious, which have this fundamentally human interest which has lasted so long.”

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Interviews with Dr Keenan about her work for the project will feature on BBC East Midlands Today and on radio stations including BBC Radio Leicester, BBC Radio Oxford and many more.

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Craig Henderson, Head of Programmes for BBC English Regions, said: “The Shakespeare on Tour stories reveal familiar places from all corners of the country in a new and fascinating light, places that we might drive or walk past every day without realising their historical resonance

“Audiences will be able to discover factual details about their local town halls, pubs and private houses around the country where Shakespeare’s plays were performed; how much Shakespeare’s players were paid; and the project will travel forward from the late 16th century to track other iconic moments such as the first - and controversial - appearance of black and female performers on stage.”

The Shakespeare on Tour section forms a part of the larger Shakespeare Festival 2016 website, run by the BBC, which encompasses the full programme of articles, performances, events and celebrations lined up across the country to mark 400 years since the Bard’s death.

The anniversary is being widely celebrated by DMU on April 22. Students from Drama and Performing Arts courses will perform Shakespeare scenes to primary schoolchildren; DMU academics will inspire local secondary school pupils with themed activities and studies; the launch of a new book called Shakespeare’s Cultural Capital, written by Dr Keenan and Professor Dominic Shellard, Vice-Chancellor of DMU; and a pop-up exhibition celebrating the Bard at DMU’s Heritage Centre.

For full details of the events taking place at DMU to celebrate the anniversary, click here.

Posted on Monday 21st March 2016

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