Play On! Introducing the Shakespeare and Music Online Exhibition

This is the first in a new blog series about the forthcoming online exhibition on Shakespeare and Music.

I’m a cultural intern undertaking a six-month placement in the Collections Department at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, supported by the University of Birmingham. My job is to develop an online exhibition for the Birthplace Trust over the next few months, on the subject of Shakespeare and Music.  I’m very excited to be here and to be working on such an interesting topic, and over the next few months I’ll be blogging about the exhibition as it develops. In this first blog, I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been doing so far, and how the exhibition is shaping up.

This is my sixth week working at the Trust, and I’ve already been given a great insight into how a heritage organisation works, and the activity that goes on in the Collections Department. I was initially taken round to each of the Trust’s five historic properties to gain an idea of the visitor experience that the Trust provides. While it was fascinating to see all of the houses, it also served as a reminder that members of the public do actually see and appreciate the work that goes on here. This may seem obvious, but it can be hard to remember when your office is tucked away in the labyrinthine Shakespeare Centre, away from the visitors! I want to make sure that my exhibition creates an engaging online space so that people can learn more about Shakespeare and the Birthplace Trust’s collections from home too.

I was also given a tour around the Trust’s archives and collections, in the reading room and the stacks: the source of the material for my online exhibition. There are some fascinating and sometimes unexpected items in the archives, and the variety of items is huge. While selecting the most appropriate artefacts to showcase in the online exhibition will be challenging, it’s very exciting to be able to work with original artefacts, which is a new experience for me!

So far I’ve been researching existing online exhibitions (some more successful than others) to get an idea of the different content and design choices that other organisations have made, and to start thinking about the look and feel of my own exhibition. I’ve also started looking at the marketing and associated events surrounding the exhibition. These are all really important elements for bringing the exhibition together, presenting it to the public, and raising awareness of the exhibition and its place in the Trust’s overarching theme of Shakespeare and Music for 2013.

However, my main priority at the moment is to work out exactly what my online exhibition is all about. “Shakespeare and Music” is a vast subject with many different potential approaches. The exhibitions could explore the music of Shakespeare’s time, or his use of music and musical references within the plays. The way this music has been performed and developed within the theatre over the years is also interesting. There is a vast range of music inspired and influenced by Shakespeare from the last four hundred years right up to the present day which could be explored as well.  As well as pursuing these approaches, I’ve been hunting through the catalogues to find relevant artefacts, and I’ve been trying to draw all this together into some key themes, such as Love and Music, and Magical Music.

It’s quite a hectic development stage, but this is where my ideas will really start coming together. Current ideas include a Shakespeare Jukebox, interactive timelines, and possibly a Top Ten Charts list for Shakespeare-related music. My next post will hopefully give a clearer idea of what you’ll be able to see in the exhibition – watch this space to find out more!

  • Kendra Leonard

    My scholarly work is on Shakespeare and music; I’m really looking forward to seeing this exhibit!

  • Mary Beth Geppert

    Shakespeare and Music is one of my main contributions to Mary Baldwin College’s Shakespeare and Performance MFA program. We have a unique program combining Scholarship and Performance and working on the Blackfriar’s stage. American Shakespeare Center has an interesting take on Shakespeare and Music . . . We look forward to reading your blog! Enjoy your time at the Birthplace Trust. I loved the amazingly diverse findings during my years there.

  • Greg Koch

    Are you inviting Rasputina to play at the exhibit? They’re producing Shakespeare madrigals next fall – and

  • Greg Koch

    Also, did you know the tributes trumpeted by marching troops of a noble in the Shakespeare Italian plays when they approached ducal palaces (or inner city walls) represented a musical signature identifying the noble family? They were also recorded by Elizabethan composers in their works, for example: William Byrd recorded the theme for long-time friend Lord Oxford in his compositions. And Oxford trumpeted the tribute when he visited ducal castles throughout Italy. (See “The Shakespeare Guide to Italy” – – for textual evidence of the musical salutes in the Italian Shakespeare plays.)

  • Jennifer Waghorn

    Thanks, Kendra – I’ll be posting updates over the next few months leading up to the exhibition launch. It’s a fascinating topic to work on!

  • Jennifer Waghorn

    Thanks, Mary – it’s great to hear that the project has already sparked interest in the topic. Music is such a key part of Shakespeare’s work: it’s a vast subject, and it’s always interesting to hear about different interpretations and approaches. Working at the Trust has been a great experience so far, I’m really looking forward to developing and launching the exhibition over the next few months.

  • Jennifer Waghorn

    Thanks for the suggestions, Greg. Flourishes are an interesting aspect of early onstage music – there are so many of them throughout the plays! It’s great to hear some ideas on the topic – sadly I won’t be able to cover every aspect of Shakespeare and music as it’s such a vast subject, but suggestions are always welcome.

  • Liski

    Fascinating plans. I’m sure there will be so much great information. By the way, do you know that a great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has created an orchestral work “Romeo and Juliet” , the overture-fantasia “Hamlet” and a symphonic fantasy “The Tempest”?

  • Adam Hansen

    This is a great topic, and I’m looking forward to waht develops. You might also look at work done at the University of Guelph:

    I research and publish on the “vast range of music inspired and influenced by Shakespeare from the last four hundred years right up to the present day” (shameless plug – see my book Shakespeare and Popular Music, 2010).

  • Jennifer Waghorn

    Thanks, Liski: I’ve heard (and played!) Romeo and Juliet, but I hadn’t heard Hamlet or the Tempest – it could be an interesting lead to follow!

  • Jennifer Waghorn

    Thanks, Adam. The site looks fascinating: it’s quite daunting to know where to start with so much music, this should give me some interesting leads to think about!

  • Andrew Bretz, PhD

    You might be interested in the seminar at the upcoming Shakespeare Association of America conference in Toronto on The Singing Body in Shakespeare. The two people behind it are

    Katie Larson and Linda Austern. Also, as one of the people at the University of Guelph, I have to thank Adam for the shout out!

  • Jennifer Waghorn

    Thanks, Andrew – I’ll look into it. Sounds interesting!

A freely available online exhibition exploring keys aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as music inspired by Shakespeare.