Personifying Shakespeare

Unveiling Shakespeare’s private life at By me William Shakespeare.

shakespeare portrait David Maghraze 1999

David Maghraze’s painting of Shakespeare (1999)

Curated by London Shakespeare Centre at King’s College London and the National Archives, By me William Shakespeare spans across four rooms, providing a multi-sensory insight into the world of one of the greatest figures in the history of theatre and literature.

Composed of paintings, videos, digital installations and archival documents, the exhibition is a fresh take on one of the most published writers of all times. By me William Shakespeare focuses on Shakespeare as an individual, rather than an author whose work has come to outweigh the creative mastermind behind it. The exhibition does so by revealing the writer’s aspirations and creative output in the context of his personal relationships.

The monographic exhibition communicates Shakespeare’s ethos and creative vision in a non-chronological manner, presenting his persona through four motifs, spatially separate from one another. The four rooms of the exhibition, Breaking & Making, Rebellion, Love & Death, and Court & Cloth, paint a holistic portraiture of Shakespeare across different media.

What stands out in the early stages of the exhibition is Shakespeare’s controversial influence on politics, namely, promoting an uprising against the monarchy.

shakespeare room 3

The old and the new: Account of the Master of the Great Wardrobe, with grant of red cloth to Shakespeare and the King’s Men, (1604) and a digital animation by 59 Productions (2015)

The material on display in Rebellion speculates a connection between Shakespeare’s Richard II and the Essex crisis in 1601, where the Earl of Essex, having watched the play, embarked on a mission to overthrow Elizabeth I the following day.

Yet, it is in third room, Love & Death, where the most unique part of the exhibition lies.  A particularly noteworthy piece, Shakespeare’s official will, reflects the hopes and aspirations of the writer. Seeing that the playwright chose to donate larger amounts of to ‘the poor of Stratford [-upon-Avon]’ than his own cousins, we are invited to commend Shakespeare for his humanitarian intents. Through the prism of his testament we are once again reassured of the meticulous and thoughtful nature of the playwright, seeing the great detail and care invested in the creation of the document that values friends as much as the immediate family, and stands for fairness above all else.

William Shakespeare's last will and testament (1616)

William Shakespeare’s last will and testament (1616)

The textual and visual material, carefully hand-picked by the curators, Professor Gordon McMullan, Dr Hannah Crawford, Dr Lucy Munro, Dr Katy Mair and Dr Hannah Crummé, oscillates between the past and present of Shakespeare’s legacy, drawing parallels between the 1600s and today. By establishing links between events such as creation of the King’s Men and building of the modern-day Globe Theatre, the exhibition invites us to reflect on the impact of Shakespeare’s work on our own lives. This idea culminates in the final room, where a digital installation by 59 productions offers a glimpse into Shakespeare’s London in relation to current-day London.

Although Shakespeare’s personal papers have not managed to survive, the curators of By me William Shakespeare have managed to present a profoundly insightful portrait of the great author of the 17th century, that allows us to form a deeply personal relationship with the writer.

Find out more about the exhibition and plan your visit at

Words by Undine Markus, 3rd Year Film Studies student at King’s College London
Photographs by Nathan Clarke Phoography