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Home » ARTS AND CULTURE » CONNECTICUT » It’s Shakespeare’s Year
The Exhibit
It’s Shakespeare’s Year

Yale Celebrates the Famous Bard in All His Forms

By Brian Scott-Smith | February 02, 2012

He’s known the world over and his plays have been translated into every language.

Christina Smylitopoulos (L) and Eleanor Hughes (R)

2012 has been earmarked by Yale University in Connecticut as Shakespeare’s year, as they celebrate The Bard and his works in every form.   And that extends to paintings not of the famous man himself, but characters from his plays.

A new and small exhibition at The Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven is displaying works from various artists of the 18th and 19th century, who used Shakespeare’s characters as inspirations for their work.

Associate Curator and Head of Exhibitions and Publications at the Centre, Eleanor Hughes and Postdoctoral Research Associate, Christina Smylitopoulos have created this enchanting and whimsical alternative look at Shakespeare as part of the Yale initiative. I asked Hughes, why this year?

“Yale has decided to use the Spring of 2012 to celebrate the incredibly rich and varied resources that Yale University has to offer for the study and enjoyment of Shakespeare’s plays and other works.

“So any institution that can possibly do anything related to Shakespeare on campus is doing it, including the museums; galleries, the libraries, every theatrical and musical organization and all the undergraduates too.”

Clifton Buck Washing from The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Centre is just one part of a multi-faceted approach to the overall event and the two ladies were given a brief as Hughes continues, “So Christina and I were given the task of coming up with a display from our collection relating to Shakespeare and knowing that we would be using the fourth floor galleries, where you can’t display works of paper, we looked at the paintings collection. And we weren’t quite sure what we were going to find.”

The paintings have been on display before in the gallery ever since the Centre opened, but never as a Shakespeare specific exhibition and the task ahead for them was an interesting one.

Hughes admits the two of them were novices when it came to Shakespeare and the art that incorporated references to him and his work.

“When we looked we found there was a really strong element of the comedies and if we had found most of the collection were the tragedies we would have done tragedies but as it turned out it was mostly comedies. And we discovered that the majority of the collection came from one source which was the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.”

A nice local story for this outstanding collection and now part of it is on display in the Centre until June of 2012.

And with a newly revamped website people are able to search Shakespeare and see other parts of the collection that didn’t make it on to the walls or display cabinets.

So what will twenty-first century visitors and students get from this exhibition?

Smylitopoulos says a lot, “I hope they get a sense of lineage, how Shakespeare grew in the minds of British culture throughout time, that it wasn’t a given that Shakespeare was this national playwright.

“But there’s also a personal connection that people tend to have with Shakespeare that they can express through looking at these paintings. For example, one of our signature pieces for the show is a collection or possession of Shakespeare’s characters and it’s a really interesting experience to see people come and view the exhibit and see if they can guess which characters are represented in the painting. It gives them a sense of enjoyment and fun.”

Unknown Procession of Shakespeare Characters

As Hughes adds, even they don’t know who all the characters are, so they’re always open to other people’s interpretations and ideas as the identity of some of the characters is far from settled making for some “great detective work.”

Exhibitions at Yale or other art institute’s often take years to put together, with each piece having its unique place within the overall exhibit.

This collection is a slice, cutting through the diversity of the man and his plays, showing how Shakespeare has lent himself to every genre of painting.

It may be but a small glimpse, but what has been put together is a fascinating look at one of the world’s most famous writers and in a form other than the plays themselves. Shakespeare on canvas is not to be missed.

And to find out about Yale’s year of Shakespeare and the variety of events on offer visit:- http://calendar.yale.edu/cal/shakespeare.


Yale Centre for British Art

1080 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06520

(877) 274-8278


Opening Hours:

Tue - Sat: 10AM to 5PM

Sun: noon to 5PM

The Center is closed on Mondays, and on January 1, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Admission: FREE

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