Reference: Hendley, Matthew C.
‘Cultural mobilization and British responses to cultural transfer in total war: the Shakespeare tercentenary of 1916’
First World War Studies, 3:1 (2012), p. 25-49

This article examines the important role William Shakespeare played in Britain’s experience of total war during the First World War. In the first two years of the war, individual scholars, cultural critics and a rich array of associations in Britain helped rally British public opinion in support of the war. As a cultural symbol of Englishness, William Shakespeare was a perfect vehicle for this self-mobilization process. The coincidence of the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916 and the demands of total war led to differing uses of Shakespeare as a vehicle for cultural self-mobilization in Britain. What makes Shakespeare an especially fascinating example of the role of culture in wartime is that his universality as a cultural symbol also made him a key figure for cultural transfer between Britain and other nations. Using insights from scholars such as Christiane Eisenberg and David Blackbourn, this article will also show how the British reaction to the cultural  transfer of a figure like William Shakespeare re-inforced Britain’s cultural self-mobilization. This article is of historical significance for three reasons. First, it analyses how Shakespeare played a vital role in British cultural self-mobilization in total war as a symbol of Englishness. The 1916 Tercentenary and the British government’s relatively limited role in organizing it meant that individual scholars, cultural critics and Shakespeare enthusiasts (and the associations they were linked to) freely articulated their vision of Shakespeare and his link to Englishness. Though not directed to do so by the British government, the narrowest and most nationalistic definition of Englishness would prevail amongst Tercentenary celebrants. Second, it shows how the cultural transfer of Shakespeare to the United States was warmly received by the British public. This aided Britain’s cultural self-mobilization by helping inspire confidence in the apparent cultural ties between Britain and the United States which it was hoped would blossom into military alliance. Third, it shows how the cultural transfer of Shakespeare to Germany was harshly criticized. This cultural transfer was seen as illegitimate and critics argued that British culture had become corrupted after being received by the Germans. In addition, this reaction to cultural transfer also aided cultural self-mobilization by increasing enmity against Britain’s leading enemy. This reaction also helped provide a cultural justification for the war by pointing to the cultural flaws and limited cultural understandings of Germany. The article will also show that such a negative reaction to a cultural transfer, belied the notion occasionally expressed by more liberally minded cultural critics that Shakespeare could be claimed by any nation without reservation as part of a universal culture. In these ways, the memory of a poet and playwright who had died 300 years before the battle of the Somme began was a vital force for Britain’s self-mobilization in a total war, especially before the rise of the Lloyd George coalition in December 1916 and the more systematic approach to government propaganda taken by Lloyd George’s government from 1917 onwards.


Monumental Shakespeares: Remembering Shakespeare in 1916 and after

A work-in-progress colloquium

King’s College London | 10th December 2011

How was Shakespeare ‘remembered’ in opposite hemispheres in 1916? How were memories constructed, fabricated or supplanted by acts/objects of memorialisation or commemoration of Shakespeare, in the wake of the Tercentenary? What do we mean by these categories of ‘remembering’?

Remembering Shakespeare is a problem. Whatever the popular myth that all the world is Shakespeare’s stage, the evidence of his commemoration is that the public finds it difficult to make up its mind about how to remember Shakespeare and thus how to find appropriate material form for the memorialisation of a key marker of cultural specificity and hegemony. Shakespeare has a foundational role in various discourses of national culture – yet how should he be remembered? With a theatre? A statue? A library? A city square? Published works?

Funded by the Australian Research Council, ‘Monumental Shakespeares’ is a collaborative research project, held jointly by King’s College London and the University of Western Australia, and involving researchers working in London, Perth and Sydney. The project aims to elucidate the processes of commemoration in London and in Sydney for the Shakespeare Tercentenary in 1916, an occasion that gave rise to significant debates over the best ways to memorialise England’s ‘National Poet’ in the British Isles and across the Empire. The project seeks to juxtapose two material outcomes of the Tercentenary: the National Theatre in London – the eventual product, decades after the event, of fractious arguments over the appropriate way to mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – and the Sydney Shakespeare monument – also the result of debates about appropriate forms of public commemoration and, as an inevitable counterpart to engagement with England’s ‘national poet,’ about the politics of imperial relations. It also examines each within the larger contexts both of the varying forms of Shakespearean memorialisation and of the history and theory of commemoration. A comparison of these two drawn-out commemorations and of the debates and contexts from which they emerged will provide a focus for analysis of cultural heritage across nations and across time.

The 1916 tercentenary exemplifies Shakespeare’s perceived value as hegemonic cultural capital, and, drawing on pioneering work by Coppélia Kahn, Clara Calvo and Ton Hoenselaars – all speaking at the colloquium – we seek to explore the event’s afterlife, its influence on the subsequent understanding of Shakespeare in performance, in criticism and in popular culture in the UK, Australia and the wider world. While it focuses on Shakespeare, the project also aims more broadly to address larger issues of commemoration, cultural memory and national identities in the early twentieth century.

The Colloquium

We are very pleased to welcome to King’s an exciting range of international speakers, who join the project’s own researchers for this day of discussion and exchange. The colloquium aims to open up new lines of enquiry and to extend the rapidly developing field of study that the Shakespeare Tercentenary has provoked over recent years. As well as presenting a series of papers around the topic, the colloquium will include – thanks to the generosity of the National Theatre – an exhibition space in which to view rare items relating to the research. as well as a round table discussion with leading experts in the field.

The Speakers

Clara Calvo (Murcia), Gavin Clarke (National Theatre), Ton Hoenselaars (Utrecht), Ailsa Grant Ferguson (King’s), Ann Isherwood (King’s), Coppélia Kahn (Brown), Gordon McMullan (King’s), Philip Mead (UWA), Andrew Murphy (St Andrews), Catherine Silverstone (Queen Mary) and Monika Smialkowska (Northumbria).

Please contact Dr. Ailsa Grant Ferguson at [->] for further details and registration.

Praha [en]Prague [fr]Prague [es]Praga

The relationship of William Shakespeare and Czech arts and literature is a long one. “Apart from identifying (him) and his plays with an ideal value system”[[Martin Procházka, “Shakespeare and Czech Resistance”. in Heather Kerr, Robin Eaden, Madge Mitton (eds), Shakespeare: World Views (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996) 45.]] of a better world that goes well beyond the troubles of everyday lives, within the Czech context Shakespeare has been endlessly used as a mean of resistance against the unapproved ruling power. One of the most important moments of Czech Shakespearean resistance was the 1916 Prague Shakespearean Cycle which celebrated the 300th anniversary of his death. The aim of this celebration had both artistic and political implications, to draw attention of the rest of the world to the existence, maturity and the rights of the oppressed Czech nation.

The whole cycle originally embraced 16 evenings with 16 plays by William Shakespeare including a five hour long version of both the parts of Henry IV., which were to be presented in one evening. Due to censorship[[Despite the fact that due to the severe cuts the political notion of the play became less evident, and the production turned into series of comic scene interconnected with the figure of Falstaff, Kvapil had to tear this premiere away from the rest of the cycle specifically due to the extra attached coronation scene which was by censorship perceived as the key political statement of the play. See: Martin Procházka, “Shakespeare and Czech Resistance”, 53.]] this premiere had to be postponed to a separate staging in autumn 1916. The final order of the plays was: The Comedy of Errors (27. 3. 1916), The Life and Death of King Richard III (30. 3. 1916), Romeo and Juliet (1. 4. 1916), The Midsummer Night´s Dream (4. 4. 1916), The Merchant of Venice (7. 4. 1916), Taming of the Shrew (13. 4. 1916), As You Like It (15. 4. 1916), Measure for Measure (17. 4. 1916), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (19. 4. 1916), Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark (23. 4. 1916), King Lear (25. 4. 1916), Macbeth (28. 4. 1916), Othello, the Moor of Venice (30. 4. 1916), and The Winter´s Tale (4. 5. 1916).

The whole cycle opened on 27th March 1916 with an hour long lecture, held by an important Czech intellectual, novelist, and scholar, František Xaver Šalda, entitled Genius Shakespeare, and His Oeuvre. The lecture is interesting in its very structure, with the usage of the second person singular as if speaking to Shakespeare himself when describing his oeuvre, stressing “the establishment of ‘concrete humanity’, consisting in the fullness and complexity of dramatic characters”[[Martin Procházka, “Shakespeare and Czech Resistance”, 52 .]], and contrary in the very last sentence using the second person plural when activating the audience, with: “Hurry, hurry to love, what shall not be seen twice”[[“Spěště, spěšte milovati, čeho neuzříte dvakráte!” Translation mine. František X. Šalda, Genius Shakespeare a jeho tvorba/Genius Shakespeare and His Oeuvre (Praha: Nakladatel Fr. Borový 1916) 21.]], which was well heard by the audience, and reflected by press. The majority of the performances were entirely sold out, and despite the terrors of the War, spectators were enthusiastic, as stated by F.X. Šalda: “By creating the jubilee Shakespearean Dramatic Cycle in spring 1916, the National Theater understood what is expected from it, and by those means formed a silent political protest.”[[„Národní divadlo pochopilo co se od něho očekává, když uspořádala na jaře roku 1916 jubilejní shakespearovský cyklus dramatický, který dopadl jako tichý protest politický.“Translation mine. František Xaver Šalda, “O naší moderní kultuře divadelně dramatické” (About our Modern Theatrical and Dramatic Culture), in Soubor díla F.X.Šaldy (Praha: Čs. spisovatel, 1961) 217. But a systematic reflection of the political implications of this event is not extant.]].

The celebration of the anniversary however did not focus only on the National Theater but was supported by other Shakespearean productions, as for example The Merchant of Venice in the Švanda Theater on the left bank of the Vltava river, The Merry Wives of Windsor in the Municipal Theater in Vinohrady, and Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark which was performed by a travelling theater troupe outside of Prague.[[Vladimír Müller, Kvapilův Shakespeare/Kvapil´s Shakespeare, Shakespearovské kapitoly/Chapters on Shakespeare I., III., manuscript, Praha: Divadelní ústav, 1960, 60.]] The press was also much involved in the preparation of the cycle informing about the rehearsal, and separate evenings of the cycle, two magazines (Světozor, and Zlatá Praha) prepared special editions dedicated to William Shakespeare. Publishing houses reprinted popular essays and publications by elite Czech scholars, for example Vilém Mathesius, the founder of English studies on the Prague University. Shakespeare´s plays were adapted into prose and published in popular book editions, and also into texts suitable for marionette theaters.[[Vladimír Müller, 60.]]

Porto Rico

« Cette brochure a été préparée pour offrir aux enseignants de Porto Rico des suggestions susceptibles de les aider à célébrer cette journée ». Les exercices « devraient consister pour l’essentiel en chants, récitations, lectures d’extraits appropriés de Cervantès et Shakespeare, et de conférences sur la vie des deux écrivains. »

Cervantes-Shakespeare Tercentenary, 1616-1916, Biographical notes, selections and appreciations, ed. Paul G. Miller, Ph.D, commissaire d’éducation, et José Padín, A.M., surintendant général, San Juan, Porto Rico, 1916.

Puerto Rico

“This bulletin has been prepared to offer the teachers of Porto Rico suggestive material to aid them to celebrate the day.” Exercises “should consist, in the main, of songs, recitations, reading of adequate selections from Cervantes and Shakespeare and talks on the lives of these two men.”

Cervantes-Shakespeare Tercentenary, 1616-1916, Biographical notes, selections and appreciations, ed. Paul G. Miller, Ph.D, Commissioner of Education, and José Padín, A.M. , General Superintendent, San Juan, Porto Rico, 1916.


Après le succès remporté par les premières saisons du Vieux-Colombier, Jacques Copeau est convié par le ministère de la Propagande à faire la promotion de la culture française aux États-Unis. Le souhait de Georges Clémenceau lui donne l’occasion de faire démobiliser une partie de ses acteurs et reconstituer sa troupe. Gaston Gallimard, Louis Jouvet, Charles Dullin, Suzanne Bing le rejoignent à New York où ils passent près de deux ans, de novembre 1917 à juin 1919, donnant 345 représentations au Garrick Theater. Pendant leur séjour, Copeau donne des conférences à travers le pays pour expliquer son projet de Comédie nouvelle, « une comédie moderne toute neuve, improvisée, avec des types tirés de la société actuelle. Une farce française du XXème siècle”. (Registres IV, p. 523).

Au cœur de la guerre, quelques écrivains saluent l’anniversaire dans leurs essais. La Société Littéraire de France produit une édition spéciale du tricentenaire du Roi Lear, traduite par Pierre Loti et Émile Vedel, illustrée de gravures sur bois par Jean Lebédeff. Romain Rolland publie dans une revue suisse, Demain, un article sur « La vérité dans le théâtre de Shakespeare », fragment d’un ouvrage en cours. « Shakespeare et l’âme anglaise » d’André Chevrillon, mai 1916, réfléchissant aux récentes célébrations, confirme le thème général du recueil de Gollancz : « le poète de l’épouvante et des roses » incarne la quintessence du génie anglais. Analysant son trait central, la prédominance de l’imagination concrète et du sentiment sur la pensée raisonneuse, il conclut que les Anglais sont avec les Slaves le seul peuple visionnaire d’Europe.


After the success of the Vieux-Colombier first seasons, Jacques Copeau was asked by the Ministry of Propaganda to advertise French culture abroad. Georges Clémenceau’s wish that he should display their theatrical talents in the United States enabled him to demobilize some of his actors and recreate his company. Gaston Gallimard, Louis Jouvet, Charles Dullin, Suzanne Bing joined him in New York where they spent nearly two years, from November 1917 to June 1919, giving 345 performances at the Garrick Theater. During their stay, Copeau gave lectures around the country to explain his notion of a New Comedy, “a wholly new modern comedy, improvised, using types deeawn from today’s society. A XXth-century French farce.” (Registres IV, p. 523).

In the midst of war, a few essays by writers salute the anniversary. The Société Littéraire de France produces a special tricentenary edition of Le Roi Lear translated by Pierre Loti and Emile Vedel, with wood engravings by Jean Lebédeff. Romain Rolland in a Swiss magazine, Demain, publishes an article on “La vérité dans le théâtre de Shakespeare”, fragment of a much larger work in progress. André Chevrillon, in “Shakespeare et l’âme anglaise”, May 1916, reflecting on the recent celebrations, confirms the general theme of Gollancz’s collection, that Shakespeare, “the poet of roses and dread”, is the very genius of Englishness, and proceeds to analyze its central feature, a predominance of concrete imagination and feeling above reasoning thought. The English are with the Slavs the only visionary people in Europe, he concludes.

New York

La Drama League of America lors de son congrès de 1914 avait lancé le projet d’une « grande célébration nationale du tricentenaire de Shakespeare » qui souleva un tel enthousiasme que des milliers d’initiatives individuelles organisèrent des événements petits et grands dans tout le pays.

Le New York Times sollicita des contributions internationales qu’il publia sur deux mois dans une série d’articles consacrés à Shakespeare.
Du 23 au 27 mai, une foule immense assiste au stade de City College à un gigantesque « masque communautaire » intitulé Caliban by the Yellow Sands, mis en scène par son auteur Percy MacKaye, avec environ 1 500 participants amateurs qui interprètent des danses, chœurs, tableaux, pantomimes, entrées et sorties processionnelles dans des interludes entre les scènes jouées par des acteurs de métier. Ce n’était là qu’un élément sur une longue liste de festivités organisées dans et autour de la ville par les églises, les synagogues, les écoles, les centres communautaires et récréatifs, les clubs… On note sur la liste un « cirque shakespearien », et un « dénouement shakespearien », projet d’évasion spectaculaire du magicien Houdini au-dessus d’une tranchée du métro.

La German stock company de Rudolf Christians basée à l’Irving Place Deutsches Theater donne au Metropolitan Opera une représentation de gala de scènes tirées de Jules César devant l’ambassadeur d’Allemagne à Washington et « une foule de spectateurs allemands qui applaudirent avec extase tout au long de cette célébration du plus grand des Anglais », New York Times, 29 mars 1916. Le violoniste Nahan Franko dirigeait l’orchestre dans un programme où figuraient le Coriolan de Beethoven et l’ouverture du Songe de Mendelssohn.

New York

The Drama League of America at its 1914 convention had launched plans for “a great national Shakespeare Tercentenary Celebration” which spurred such enthousiasm that individuals organized thousands of large and small events throughout the country.

The New York Times issued a two-month series of articles about Shakespeare by international contributors. From 23 to 27 May, huge crowds attended a huge “community masque” called Caliban by the Yellow Sands at the City College Stadium, staged by its author Percy MacKaye, with some 1,500 amateur participants who performed group dances, choruses, tableaux, pantomime, and processional entries and exits in the interludes between the parts interpreted by professional actors. This was only part of a long list of celebrations organized in and around the city by churches, synagogues, schools, community and recreation centres, clubs… which included a “Shakespearean Circus”, and Houdini’s “Shakespearian denoument”, a planned evasion from a straightjacket above a subway excavation.

At the Metropolitan Opera House, a gala performance of scenes from Julius Caesar was given by Rudolf Christians’s German stock company from the Irving Place Deutsches Theater, with the German ambassador at Washington as “one of the huge German audience that applauded rapturously throughout this celebration of the greatest Englishman”, New York Times, 29 March 1916. The violonist Nahan Franko directed the orchestra in a programme including Beethoven’s Coriolanus and the overture of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Avec deux ans d’avance, un Real Decreto du 22 avril 1914 donnait des directives pour des célébrations communes de Cervantes et Shakespeare, morts à quelques jours d’intervalle l’un de l’autre, et désignait des comités honoraires et exécutifs. Mais le 30 janvier 1916, l’Espagne annule par un second décret royal toutes les célébrations officielles des deux écrivains.

L’Académie royale d’Espagne fonde un prix pour le meilleur essai de critique littéraire en espagnol sur l’œuvre de Shakespeare.