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All the Museum's a Stage

On the occasion of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, WTTW, Chicago's local PBS station will be airing a documentary about Shakespeare in Chicago. As the Bard of course never set foot in the New World, it relies on our city’s subsequent interpretation of his plays. But while much of the broadcast includes footage of Chicago Shakespeare Theater performances from the 1980s to the present, the filmmakers also decided to look more broadly at the Bard’s influence on the arts in Chicago. In the process, they came to the Art Institute to look at a few of the over 200 artworks in our collection with a Shakespeare connection and spent several hours filming me speaking about these little-seen theatrical items in the Glore Print Study Room. Here is a sneak peek at some of our objects that may or may not be included in the final broadcast.

From the Ryerson and Burnham Library Archives Century of Progress Collection, we have photographic proof that Shakespeare was here in Chicago after all! Or at least a life-size recreation of his Globe Theatre was here in the Windy City. The postcard below shows the threatre constructed for the “Merrie England” section of the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress exposition.


There are ceramic busts of Shakespeare and chess pieces curiously resembling Lady Macbeth in our department of European Decorative Arts, and portraits of actors playing famous roles in Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture as well as Photography, and even an Anne Lemieux sculpture in Contemporary that took a Richard II quote as its inspiration.

The Department of Prints and Drawings includes by far the most Shakespearean items, although no illustrations of Shakespeare’s plays contemporary with the first performances survive. However, the Bard became all the rage a century later in eighteenth-century Britain, when the penchant for grand tragedies ensured that one out of every six plays performed in London was one of his. The actor, director, and theater owner David Garrick turned celebrity casting (usually of himself, with his biggest role as the villainous Richard III) for these performances into big business, and we have the collectible prints to prove it.


Our City, Our Shakespeare will begin airing on May 1. Click here for more complete listing information.

Image Credit:

John Dixon after Nathaniel Dance. Mr. Garrick in Richard the Third, published April 28, 1772. The John H. Wrenn Memorial Endowment Fund and the Stanley Field Fund.