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Interview with British Museum’s Shakespeare: staging the world curator, Dora Thornton

2 November 2012 | London Calling

We caught up with Dora Thornton, curator of The British Museum's blockbuster exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world, who tells us more about curating the show.

London Calling: How is Shakespeare relevant to the modern world?
Dora Thornton
: Shakespeare asked the questions that still matter; he explored the human condition in a way that has had lasting value across the globe.

LC: What Shakespearean influences can still be seen today?
DT:
His influence is everywhere: in language particularly, including everyday expressions, and in the way we explore human emotion and experience. Even  the way we question ourselves and our leaders owes much to him.

LC: What misconceptions do people today have of Shakespeare? How have you dealt with that?
DT:
People tend to concentrate on the authorship controversy and matters of biography. We state the aims of our exhibition very clearly both in the exhibition and in the press and marketing campaign. It’s about his world and not about him personally, but we do touch on interesting aspects of his life and Warwickshire origins  in the exhibition.

LC: Have you seen a different audience attend this exhibition after the high profile of Shakespeare through the World Shakespeare Festival?
DT:
We have reached out to new audiences through the World Shakespeare Festival and partnership with the RSC. It’s our first ever collaboration with the RSC, or any theatre company, and has been a really remarkable collaboration. We also collaborated in shared events in the public programme, and specially commissioned RSC performances. 

LC: How closely did you look at other Shakespeare exhibitions such as those at the Globe or Birthplace Trust before deciding upon the final content put on display?
DT:
We started from a completely different premise than any other exhibition, in that we looked at Shakespeare’s world through the lens of the playhouse. Obviously we have looked at other exhibitions but we had to do a lot of new thinking and research. In a sense we have built on other BM exhibitions on different themes, rather than on Shakespeare ones elsewhere.

LC: Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play or character, and has this changed as part of working on the exhibition?
DT:
I’m particularly fond of both the play and character Othello and my working on the exhibition has deepened my appreciation of the play,  and indeed of all Shakespeare’s work.

LC: And what is your own favourite item in the exhibition?
DT:
It changes all the time;  as the curator I’m deeply engaged with all of the objects because I had to find them and tell their stories. But I am still particularly fascinated by Oldcorne’s Eye Reliquary, because it’s such a powerful and political object.

LC: Have visitor’s responses and reactions to the material in the exhibition been as you expected?

DT: The critical responses that have been relayed to us in the museum have been extraordinary and show that people have really engaged with Shakespeare’s world.

 

Shakespeare: staging the world is on at The British Museum until 25 November 2012. Click here to book tickets.

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