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The Shakespeare Institute

About

The Shakespeare Institute has enjoyed an illustrious past as a beacon for international Shakespeare scholarship. Former Directors include major Shakespeareans such as Philip Brockbank, Stanley Wells, Peter Holland and Kate McLuskie. Now, under its new Director, Professor Michael Dobson, the Institute is on the brink of a new era.

It has more academic staff, more professors and enhanced buildings. And though everything returns to Shakespeare, the research interests of its fellows have never been so exhilaratingly diverse. Whether you’re interested in Shakespeare and medicine, Asia or religion; textual editing; the wider corpus of Renaissance drama; or early modern literature in history, the Shakespeare Institute is the place for you. As Michael Dobson says, the Institute is simply ‘the best place on earth in which to explore the impact Shakespeare’s work has had across four centuries of world culture’.

It is also becoming a more creative place. Several staff are involved in major creative projects and are incorporating exciting new creative elements into their teaching. We want to bring the directors, actors, writers, arts administrators and teachers as well as the academics of the future to Stratford. And we want to bring Shakespeare to life in new ways in the here-and-now.

The Shakespeare Institute enjoys close and developing relations with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. It has its own purpose-built world-class research library, run by a priceless team of expert librarians. It plays host to the most prestigious international Shakespeare conference in the world, as well as to the biggest postgraduate conference in Shakespeare studies. A host of major Shakespearean projects are based in whole or in part in the building. These include the most influential Shakespeare imprint, the Oxford Shakespeare, the most important Shakespeare annual, Shakespeare Survey, the high-profile Shakespeare Now! and Palgrave Shakespeare Studies series, and the first catalogue of all Renaissance drama.

The Malone Society is administered at the Institute and the Shakespeare Club - the oldest Shakespeare society in existence - meets here. Institute personnel are leading lights in many of the most important international Shakespeare organisations, with places on the boards of, for example, the British Shakespeare Association, the European Shakespeare Research Association and the foremost American journal, Shakespeare Quarterly.

There is no research culture more vibrant than the Shakespeare Institute’s. It is home to the Shakespeare Institute Players and every week its historic rooms and gardens buzz with rarely-played play readings, theatrical experiments and all sorts of other Shakespeare-inspired activity. Our famous Thursday seminars attract the big hitters of Shakespeare studies as well as Directors and actors and they help foment on a weekly basis what is quite simply the most focussed academic conversation about Shakespeare there is.

And all that without saying—here you can study Shakespeare where he was born and died and just a short walk away from the RSC!

Student Life

Mason Croft

Mason Croft, which now houses the University of Birmingham's Shakespeare Institute, was formerly the home of the novelist Marie Corelli.

In 1901, at the height of her popularity as a best selling novelist, Corelli made Mason Croft her permanent home, becoming a controversial as well as celebrated figure among Stratford's residents. She had already published fifteen novels and was equally adored by her readers and vilified by critics. As a newcomer to Stratford she attracted a similarly polarised response amongst the residents of the town by engaging in spirited local campaigns to preserve Shakespeare's heritage, most notably to save the houses neighbouring the Shakespeare Birthplace in Henley Street from demolition. She also bought Harvard House and oversaw its restoration as a rendezvous for visiting Americans.

Early twentieth-century postcards and photographs of Mason Croft show the frontage festooned in creepers and blossom, with a porch and low railing. Bertha Vyver, in her Memoirs of Marie Corelli (1930), said 'It was a dilapidated old place when we went in, but together we set to work, and in good time it was improved out of all recognition; and after a few years, during which shrubs and creepers grew outside and alterations were made within, it became the charming and homely house that it is to-day.' Visitors to Mason Croft welcomed by Corelli on behalf of the town included: Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Adelina Patti, Clara Butt, Ada Crossley, Frank Benson, Florence Barclay, Mark Twain, General William Booth, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and visiting dignitaries and parties from Belgium, South Africa, Australia and the USA .

Much of Mason Croft, now a listed building and in daily use as a centre for Shakespeare Studies, still bears traces of Marie Corelli's life here. In the music room, now used principally as a lecture room, can be seen the grand fireplace with intertwined initials 'MC' and 'BV', memorialising the lifelng friendship of Corelli and her companion Bertha Vyver. Refreshments after seminars are served in Corelli's 'winter garden', an airy conservatory overlooking the garden.

The 'Elizabethan Tower' (now known as the Gazebo) in the grounds, reputed to have been the site of composition of Corelli's writing, still overlooks the old archway which, in Corelli's time, supported a vertical double sundial.

Modern additions include the Shakespeare Library, built in 1996 to house the University's unparallelled Shakespeare collections and attracting scholars from all over the world.

Corelli died on 21 April 1924 and was buried five days later after a service in Holy Trinity Church. Crowds of mourners gathered outside Mason Croft hours before the funeral procession was due to start, and the mourners included the Mayor and Corporation of Stratford as well as personal friends and national literary figures. Marie left her whole estate to Bertha Vyver, after whose death Mason Croft was to become a trust 'for the promotion of Science, Literature and Music among the people of Stratford upon Avon '. Corelli wished the house to become a residence for distinguished literary visitors to the town, but firmly insisted that all actors, actresses 'and all persons connected with the stage' be excluded from the premises. She also intended that the land surrounding the house be preserved as 'a breathing space and air zone for the health of the town... now endangered by the overcrowding of buildings entirely disadvantageous to the well being of the population'.

Bertha maintained the house exactly as it was in Corelli's lifetime, but lack of funds led to problems with upkeep and by 1934 a visitor found the garden neglected, the paddock entirely overgrown and much of the house shrouded in dust sheets. During the Second World War the music room was requisitioned by the WAA, who wished to use the paddock for physical recreation. After Bertha's death on 20 November 1941 the Air Ministry prepared to take over the whole house, intending that the paddock be turned over to the National Fire Service. Attempts to assert the terms of the trust envisaged by Corelli were legally overturned in 1943 and her will was declared null and void. Consequently Corelli's books, furniture, goods and personal possessions were sold off, auctioned over three days on 28, 29 and 30 October 1943, much to the distress of her remaining servants and friends.

Corelli's books and papers have since been scattered across many archives and collections in the UK and abroad. Items acquired by friends and residents of Stratford and later purchases and donations constitute a significant Corelli archive at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Record Office and the Shakespeare Institute has a few remaining items including the manuscript of her novel, Life Everlasting. After the war Mason Croft housed the British Council for six years, after which the University of Birmingham acquired the house and grounds.

Corelli's wish that the house remain a resource for distinguish figures in literature and the arts is thus happily fulfilled, though her prejudice against actors is not honoured, and members of the Royal Shakespeare Company are among the building's regular and welcome visitors. An unobtrusive plaque to the right of the building's front entrance is the only sign visible to the passer-by of Corelli's long connection with Mason Croft.

Life at the Shakespeare InstituteThursday seminars

A distinctive feature of the Institute's life is the weekly Thursday Seminar. They are led by distinguished visiting speakers from other universities both national and international.

BritGrad

The highlight of the students' academic year is the annual Britgrad conference organised by students for students. You will be able to join postgraduate students from all over the world to give and hear short papers on all aspects of Shakespeare and early-modern drama. Britgrad provides a unique opportunity for graduate students to share their work with their peers and to hear what other graduates in similar and related fields are working on. We hope you will join in with organising this event (a real plus on your cv!).

Shakespeare Institute Players

The Shakespeare Institute Players is a student run theatre group who rehearse and perform in the hall two or three times a year. All students are invited to participate, providing opportunities to act, direct, work backstage, produce, publicity etc. Recent successes have included Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Canterbury Tales and Othello. Much of the student life is also organised by The Shakespeare Institute Players.

Play readings

Each Thursday at 19:00 in term time, students get together with members of staff to read plays from the Renaissance period. You will encounter plays by the best known of Shakespeare's colleagues as well as some from the wilder reaches of the Tudor and early Stuart corpus such as The Hog Hath Lost His Pearl.

The Shakespeare birthday celebrations

Members of the Shakespeare Institute take part in the annual Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations, the highlight of Stratford's calendar. The Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust begin the celebrations with the Shakespeare Birthday lecture given by a major figure from the theatre and arts. The lecturer in 2011 was Patrick Stuart, who played Shylock in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2011 production of The Merchant of Venice. Students and staff walk in the procession alongside dignitaries from all over the world, theatre people, and towns people, all carrying flowers to take to Shakespeare's grave.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RSC)

The most important resource for student life at the Shakespeare Institute is the presence in Stratford of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who perform at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan and The Courtyard Theatre, all within five minutes walk of the Institute.

International Shakespeare conference

This international gathering of leading Shakespeare scholars is held every two years, in the summer at The Shakespeare Institute. It was initiated at Mason Croft in the 1940's under the auspices of the British Council, and has been hosted by The Shakespeare Institute since its establishment in 1951. About 230 members meet to hear papers and participate in seminars on a chosen theme. Membership of the Conference is by invitation only.

Living in Stratford-upon-Avon

Most of your time at the Shakespeare Institute will be spent in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Living in Stratford

Stratford-upon-Avon is an attractive market town with more than 800 years of history located in the heart of England. Home to the world’s most famous playwright, William Shakespeare, it blends heritage, culture, theatre, arts and gardens along with a thriving community offering a wide variety of leisure and shopping experiences.

Stratford is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is one of the best-known theatre companies in the world, and one of the best resources for students studying Shakespeare. Having just completed a successful year hosting the Complete Works, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre are now undergoing major transformation, but the RSC continue to offer an exciting schedule from The Courtyard Theatre. Recent highlights have included Gregory Doran’s production of Hamlet starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust own and manage all the Shakespeare properties, as well as holding extensive archives including those of the RSC. Students studying with us make good use of the excellent resources offered by the Trust.

One of the advantages of living in Stratford-upon-Avon, is that it is easy to get around the town. Shops, bars, theatres, cinema’s etc are all within walking distance of each other. The Shakespeare Institute itself is only seven minutes from the Railway Station and five minutes from the town centre.

As a tourist town, there are plenty of part time jobs available for students looking to earn some money whilst studying with us. Students in full-time registration with the University are exempt from paying the local Council Tax. Information on finding accommodation in Stratford can be found on the Institute’s accommodation page.

Stratford-upon-Avon is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of South Warwickshire and it is in close proximity to the Cotswolds. There are many English Heritage and National Trust properties in the region including Warwick Castle. The railway station has direct links to Birmingham (50 minutes) and London (1hr 40 mins).

The Shakespeare Institute Players

The Shakespeare Institute Players is a theatre company comprised of members of the Shakespeare Institute. Driven by the desire to enrich our understanding of plays from the Early Modern period through innovation, exploration and creative play, we offer the general public a chance to share our experiences of these texts through performance. We make costumes, learn lines, write music, and re-discover what makes these plays so exciting, all in the midst of our various pursuits as students of the drama and the period. We invite you to join us for a performance of these remarkable plays!

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