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Proud Shakespeare - Taking Stock, Looking Forward

The intersection of Shakespeare with queer culture and history shapes the future as much as it does the past. At the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we take the same approach, and so at the beginning of 2023, we want to look back on the Proud Shakespeare of last year in order to look forwards to the future.

Gwenan Parsons

What is Proud Shakespeare?

Proud Shakespeare is our long-term commitment to engaging with LGBTQ+ communities. Through working with LGBTQ+ advocates, we are enhancing both our understanding of existing collections and our ability to attract relevant new collections.

We have produced a guide Sources for LGBTQ+ Studies in SBT Collections and this is regularly updated and published in support of events such as Warwickshire Pride.

Looking Back at 2022

‘OUTing the Past’ took place on the 17th February 2022 and kicked off with presentations from our own Jim Ranahan (he/him), Collections Archivist with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and other brilliant speakers. These presentations covered themes of unmasking, history’s relevance in today’s Stratford-upon-Avon, gender, what the Collections has to offer on LGBTQ+ resources, and much more. The festival also introduced new art in the form of 1623 Theatre Company’s ‘Shake it Up!’ video series, made during lockdown, celebrating the queer community.

You can view recordings on our Proud Shakespeare Playlist.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust staff and volunteers pictured with visitors to the SBT stand at Warwickshire Pride 2022. Seven people in pride colours gather round a Proud Shakespeare sign.
The Pride of Pride at Pride - Proud Shakespeare Stall at Warwickshire Pride, 2022. Left to Right: Peter Edmunds; Caitlin Trudgill; Cameron Wallis; Anne Doughty; Consuela, aka Helen Edmunds; Dame Holly Hock, aka Owen Edmunds; Michelle Avon. Copyright: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

At Warwickshire Pride 2022, Proud Shakespeare represented SBT’s commitment to engagement. We, the volunteers for the day, made ourselves known at our stall and had a brilliant day sharing our knowledge, enthusiasm, and our pride. We got to have conversations about how we can broaden the scope of queer icons that we talk about in our history. Famous names like Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker are important, but looking outwards to local queer history and queer people is just as valuable.

Michelle Avon standing outside Shakespeare's Birthplace, right hand on the protective rail overlooked by Shakespeare's coat of arms.

In this respect, we were joined by Michelle Avon (she/her), Proud Shakespeare volunteer and local LGBTQ+ advocate. Michelle has donated personal papers (see Source Guide) and is committed to share her insights on activism, to enrich Stratford’s record of queer culture.

We also gave out Shakespeare quotes badges and displayed queer-relating photographs of RSC performances and images of objects within the collection. These photographs acted as a useful medium through which to start discussions about what Shakespeare means to queer communities and how the Trust can work towards unmasking queer identities in the resources we have or wish to obtain.

Looking to the future

We are looking forward to the publication of a revised source guide at the end of February, which reflects ongoing discoveries within existing collections and new additions. During the spring, we will be working with artist Tom Marshman. Tom’s work focuses on ‘the outsider & their story, particularly regarding the LGBTQ+ experience, stories that been omitted through archival silence’, a focus which links strongly with the motivation for Proud Shakespeare. We look forward to working with Tom, as he moves beyond existing work on ‘ShakesQueer’.

The next Warwickshire Pride will be taking place on Saturday 19th August 2023, and the theme for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust stall will be engagement in all its forms. At Pride, we will be happy to discuss volunteering, giving all those who wish to the opportunity to get involved with Proud Shakespeare and other activities within the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Through our ongoing work with Proud Shakespeare and engaging with these events, we hope to keep our connection to queer communities strong and to, once again, have fun, learn, and promote our history.

In the SBT Collections, we are progressing towards transparency and clarity by making descriptions of resources obvious as to their queerness so that future research may be conducted all the more easily. We are also excited to find out what else in our collections might require uncovering, further establishing Shakespeare’s intrinsic connection to LGBTQ+ history and finding out some incredible things along the way.

As Orsino once said, ‘If music be the food of love, play on!’ Of these three elements, music, food and love, there was plenty in 2022. We hope that 2023 will be just as proud!