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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Weeklong ODU Festival to Explore Shakespeare's Influence - 400 Years Later

By Tom Robinson

An ambitious collaborative project three years in the making at Old Dominion University will bring the enduring impact of William Shakespeare's life, work and times into focus April 13-20.

To mark the 400th anniversary of The Bard's death, Imtiaz Habib, professor of English and a renowned Shakespeare scholar, conceived and organized "Shakespeare 400 Years After," a weeklong festival taking place at the University and throughout Hampton Roads.

The series of theatrical performances, music, film, dance, poetry readings, pop-up shows and historical exhibitions will include a three-day international scholarly conference "Shakespeare and Our Times." The anniversary event was created to celebrate and investigate the unshakeable presence of Shakespeare in modern culture.

Adding to the anticipation for the event is the unique position - academically and geographically - Old Dominion claims as host of "Shakespeare 400 Years After." The University lies in close proximity to Jamestown, where the Virginia Company of London established the first permanent English colony in America in the early 17th century.

Shakespeare was a peer and a colleague to many leaders and advocates of the Virginia Company, whose names remain indelibly etched in the rich history of this region.

Included in that circle were the earls of Pembroke and Southampton, as well as William Strachey, Shakespeare's Blackfriars neighbor in London, who wrote the definitive report of a shipwreck off the coast of Bermuda en route to America. The latter is thought to be the inspiration for Shakespeare's "The Tempest," one of his final plays.

"Shakespeare may not himself have come, but it was his world that came here," Habib said. "The people who conceived and implemented the Virginia settlement in 1607 were people who patronized Shakespeare, with whom Shakespeare was in contact and who he saw regularly. They were people he worked with and wrote with, people he performed with and had connections with in that industry.

"If Virginia has a cultural asset for America, ODU is at the center of that asset."

A highlight of "Shakespeare 400 Years After" is Habib's documentary film "Shakespeare's World and Virginia's Beginning," which examines surviving Elizabethan traces in Hampton Roads.

And the "Shakespeare and Our Times" conference includes the esteemed plenary speakers Alan Nelson, emeritus professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, an influential expert on the popular theatre of The Bard's day; and Leah Marcus, the Edwin Mims Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Marcus, author of "Puzzling Shakespeare," is among the world's most powerful and inspirational Shakespeare scholars.

The conference will feature numerous interdisciplinary discussions led by scholars from around the country and the world, including India, Italy, Egypt, Nigeria, China, England and Canada. A public reception at the Constant Convocation Center at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14 will inaugurate the festival. Those planning to attend the reception are asked to please RSVP by April 1 to this address.

A complete schedule of the events of "Shakespeare 400 Years After," with venue and ticket information, can be found at the festival website.

Partners and sponsors for the weeklong event are: Historic Jamestowne and Preservation Virginia; Norfolk Sister City Alliance (with Norfolk, U.K.); Agecroft Hall, Richmond; Chrysler Museum of Art, performing troupes from across Virginia; various contributing units from Old Dominion University; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities; Fort Raleigh, Roanoke Island, N.C.; and the Guineamen Community of Gloucester County, Va.