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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.]]

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

In April 1864 the entire cultural world commemorated the anniversary of Shakespeare´s Tercentenary, and Czech artists joined them. Not only this celebration confirmed the maturity of Czech theatre but at the same time it was a manifestation of the independence of the Czech theatre company from the German theatre company which until that year both shared the stage of the Provisional Theatre (a theatre house established before the actual National Theatre was built) since its establishment in (1862). In (1864) the troupes definitely separated in when the German troupe left the Provisional Theatre, and moved to a different theatre space.

The festivities celebrating Shakespeare´s Tercentenary began with a cycle of performances in the Provisional Theatre (Much Ado about Nothing, Coriolanus, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Rossini´s opera version of Othello).

On 2nd April, 1864, the celebration culminated with a choral symphony by H. Berlioz, entitled Romeo and Juliette. Then the artists appeared in six “tableaux vivants” from Shakespearean plays (the kidnapping of Jessica from Shylock´s house from The Merchant of Venice; Richard the Third proposing to Anne in front of the grave of Henry the Sixth from The Life and Death of King Richard III; a lady begging for the saving of Rome from Coriolanus; then a scene from Cymbeline; the death scene from Romeo and Juliet, and the last crowning tableau vivant was from The Winter’s Tale, the second pastoral scene with Perdita giving flowers to the participants of the sheep-shearing feast. Then Shakespeare´s bust was revealed centre stage, and all 165 actors dressed in Shakespearean costumes and costumes of various nations made a pageant accompanied by the sounds of Smetana´s March, composed especially for this occasion. According to an anonymous article,

The audience was speechless, and we can bravely say that we have never seen something so spectacular in its size and organization. The characters from Shakespeare as well as the representatives of nations rose higher and higher, and stopped abeam Shakespeare´s grand bust. Then when all of them stood there the group opened and Miss Malá [one of the most famous Czech actresses of later 19th century] was prepared to deliver the Epilogue.[[ “V obecenstvu se zatajil v pravém slova smyslu dech a můžeme směle říct, že jsme podobně velkolepého, masou a uspořádáním vynikajícího živého obrazu nespatřili. Postavy Shakespearovy i zástupové holdujících národů byly efektně vystupujíce výše a výše kolem obrovského poprsí Shakespearova sestaveny. Před poprsím bylo krásné seskupení rozevřeno a zde stála slečná Malá co Perdita připravena, aby po jásavém přivítání překvapujícího obrazu přednesla doslov.” Anonymous, Hlas 114, (26.4. 1916). My translation.]]

It was written by Emanuel Züngel, a poet and translator, who did not omit to remark on Shakespeare´s usage of Bohemia in The Winter´s Tale, and transformed it to contemporary, politically underlined statement where Perdita was the impersonation of “perdita ars bohemica”, the lost Czech arts that found their way home. The audience together with journalists and reviewers were astonished by the grand manifestation of Czech culture and Czech nation.


Smetana compose une Marche solennelle à la gloire de Shakespeare en ut majeur, op. 20, pour accompagner un défilé de 200 personnages de ses pièces. Le 23 avril 1864, il dirige la symphonie dramatique de Berlioz, Roméo et Juliette, lors d’un concert à Prague en l’honneur du tricentenaire, et ajoute au programme sa propre Marche.


Smetana composes a Solemn March for the Shakespearean Festival in C major, op. 20, for a pageant of 200 characters from the plays. On 23 April 1864, he conducts Berlioz’ choral symphony Roméo et Juliette at a concert in Prague celebrating the tercentenary and added to the programme his own March.