“Put a girdle round about the earth….”

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Greg Hicks with International Study Course (2009)

Greg Hicks (RSC's King Lear) with International Study Course (2009)

There will be two Global Gatherings in Stratford this weekend.  One will take place at Long Marston Airfield, and will feature Dizzee Rascal, Faithless and Paul Oakendfold, and the other will happen just steps away from Shakespeare’s birthplace.

As I write, school teachers from Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Latvia, Malta, Mauritius, Denmark, Portugal, Russia, Tajikstan, Turkey, and the USA will be boarding airplanes ready to take part in the second of these global gatherings. Each year, in collaboration with The English Speaking Union (www.esu.org), we run a residential course for international teachers, and Monday will mark the beginning of this year’s international assembly.

It is a rare privilege to discuss Shakespeare’s works with an audience of this kind.  Casual conversation about Shakespeare’s plays soon slips into anecdotes about ways in which language, culture, and tradition play a significant role in shaping an individual’s response to drama. I’m already looking forward to hearing about how Shakespeare is taught in Latvia – which plays are performed most often in Tajikstan – and what place Shakespeare occupies in the minds of people from Mauritius. The RSC’s Complete Works Festival in 2006/7 gave me an appetite for global Shakespeare, and I am always excited by news of Shakespearian happenings outside of the UK.

Each teacher will come with a story about how he or she was introduced to Shakespeare, and perhaps more importantly an idea of how they wish to inspire and excite the next generation of readers and theatergoers. We can all learn such a great deal from one another through conversation – “only connect…” as E.M. Forster wrote. These sentiments were echoed by one of last year’s teachers from Belarus, who wrote:

“It was really great to meet people from different parts of the world and make friends with them and be a member of a united and enthusiastic group. The course confirmed my belief that Shakespeare’s literary heritage is so rich and multi-faceted that any person of any age can find inspiration, great emotion and sophisticated ideas in his works.  I learnt the importance of finding the best ways to engage with Shakespeare’s work and the Shakespeare course was really of great help here since we discussed and practiced a whole range of activities which can make Shakespeare studies more engaging, diverse, and brain-teasing for students.  Now I feel absolutely inspired and enthusiastic about studying Shakespeare, and I’m sure the Stratford experience has made me even more perceptive and appreciative of Shakespeare’s heritage”.

This year teachers will attend and discuss the RSC’s productions of As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale and The Young People’s Shakespeare Production of The Comedy of Errors.

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Author:Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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