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Shakespeare Connected - 'Not to be': Death in the Collections

This blog introduces a Shakespeare Connected exhibition on death and material culture.

Ben Haworth

A Shakespeare Connected exhibition in collaboration with Ben Haworth, Nottingham Trent University.

Death features heavily in Shakespeare’s works – he loved to bump off his characters in the most imaginative ways (anyone fancy being baked in a pie?). In fact there are over seventy deaths in his plays alone (precisely 75 if you count the black ill-favoured fly squashed in Titus Andronicus). Reminders of life’s transience were all around the playwright, with theatres regularly closed due to the recurring presence of the Black Death. But what did people really think about death? 

Death is very much present in the Collections at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Objects and texts highlight the ways in which death has made its presence felt before, during, and after Shakespeare’s day. Some demonstrate the way in which Death forms the backdrop to rituals that prepare a person for their journey into the next world. Others show the changing attitudes towards life’s little leftovers with examples from pre-Christian England through to the reformed Protestant state with which Shakespeare was familiar. There are fascinating pieces and thought-provoking manuscripts that capture the ways the dead are remembered as well as some peculiar ways in which we are reminded of our own mortality.

Dance of Death
Wilfred Puddephat, Dance of Death – Guild Chapel paintings (1994-19/137)

See Ben's online exhibition to find out more about death in our collections.

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