Happy birthday William Shakespeare: Ten exhibits celebrating Shakespeare in UK galleries

| 23 April 2014

Britain's best-known writer would have been 450 today, and it is the 398th anniversary of his death. Here are ten places to honour William Shakespeare

An image of a white sculpture of a man in a suit against a black background
© National Portrait Gallery, London
A cast of Shakespeare’s features at death bought by the National Portrait Gallery, London

Sculptor Gerard Johnson is said to have won the approval of Shakespeare’s family for this expressive plaster-cast – the bard has a calm, thoughtful look – following his death at the age of exactly 52 on April 23 1616. It peered from the chancel in the Church of Holy Trinity, in Stratford-on-Avon, and was bought by the gallery in 1914.

An image of a white sculpture of a man in a suit against a black background
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright at the V&A, London

One of the most in-demand European actresses of the late 19th century, Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet to apparent acclaim during an 1899 tour which took in London, Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester and Belfast. This picture is part of a V&A exhibition, running until September, which also includes a First Folio and boots and headdresses worn by actors as part of a trail you can follow around their galleries.

An image of two ancient books next to a small black sack
© National Museums Scotland. On loan from the University of Edinburgh
A volume of Shakespeare plays which went to the Arctic at National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh

John Rae was a Scottish doctor with seemingly Olympian stamina. His notable circumnavigations spanned from Northern Canada to Greenland, and one of his frost-bitten explorations, through the Arctic in 1846, was assisted by this volume of Shakespeare plays, originally published 13 years beforehand.

An image of a painting of a 17th century man in profile
© Courtesy Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s only portrait of Shakespeare made during his lifetime – or is it?

When The Cobbe Portrait appeared at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, on his birthday five years ago, it was met with a mix of excitement and conjecture that the man in question could actually have been one Sir Thomas Overbury. Scholars used tree-ringing and x-rays to conclude it was made in 1610, when Shakespeare – if it was him – would have been 46.

An image of an ancient book
© Craven District Council
The Skipton First Folio at the Yorkshire Museum, York

These 36 plays – then-unprinted, when they were published as a compendium in 1623 – add up to one of the most important books in Britain, and one of only four copies worldwide on public display. Craven Museum is sending it to York for a four-month display coinciding with the Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire and the city’s Literature Festival.

An image of a man in an apron conserving a huge old artwork
© Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter City Council
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s largest painting in Exeter

At 3.5 metres tall and 4.5 metres wide, The Entry of Richard and Bolingbroke into London is too vast to fit through the doors of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Conservators used honey and materials from the swim bladders of Brazilian Lumpfish to protect the 1793 painting, based on the monarch-humiliating Act 5, Scene 2 of Richard II, during a restoration six years ago.

An image of an ancient book bearing text from a play called the tempest
© Bodleian Libraries
A digital facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

Study every crease, crinkle and fold of the First Folio in this comprehensive page-turner compiled during a five-month project at the end of 2012. It’s part of Sprint for Shakespeare, an expert-informed commentary on the precious works and the techniques used to conserve them.

A painting of a 17th century woman holding a skull
© National Museum Wales
The skull-caressing Mother of Wales at National Museum Wales, Cardiff

A noblewoman who had four husbands during her 50 years, Katheryn of Berain’s son, John Salusbury, was executed in 1586 for his part in the Babington Plot to murder Elizabeth I. Shakespeare’s poem in a lovelorn anthology, The Phoenix and the Turtle, from 1601, is thought to have been dedicated to him.

An image of a page in black ink showing the tragedy of hamlet prince of denmark
© quartos.org
Meet multiple incarnations of Hamlet in the Quartos

Backed by institutions including the British Library and the National Library of Scotland, this dedication to Shakespeare’s pre-1642 plays allows you to browse all 32 quarto copies of Hamlet held by its participants. That means you can absorb all the drama in hi-res glory.

A photo of a small glazed figurine of a man in green stockings and a blue jacket
© Fitzwilliam Museum, collection of the late Colonel RG Turner. Given by Mrs J E Campbell, 1984
A small Staffordshire take on Shakespeare at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Shakespeare leans his left elbow on a column and crosses his legs while draped in a pink coat with orange trim, a blue and gold jacket, green breeches and blue stockings in this lead-glazed earthenware. Made by John and Rebecca Lloyd in Victorian Staffordshire, the gilt-edged figure carries a black-marked scroll.

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