British Library Announces 2016 Cultural Programme

The British Library  has today announced its 2016 programme of exhibitions and events that includes exhibitions dedicated to Shakespeare, Cervantes and Tang Xianzu. 

Othello, The Moor of Venice, 1826 (oil on canvas)
Othello, The Moor of Venice, 1826 (oil on canvas) by James Northcote (1746-1831); Manchester Art Gallery, UK; sitter almost certainly actor Ira Aldridge (1807-67).


The first major new exhibition to take place at the British Library is Shakespeare in 10 Acts (15th April-6th September) -which is taking place to mark the 400th anniversary since William Shakespeare’s death.

The exhibition aims to explore how Shakespeare has become such a cultural icon through ten key performances of his work. It will feature a number of different costumes, props, film clips as well as items from the British Library’s collections such as the only surviving play-script in Shakespeare’s hand.

One of the key performances to be focused on in the exhibition is that of Ira Aldridge – the first black actor to play Shakespeare’s Othello in 1825. On display will be two playbills on either side of the abolition of slavery – which show the ways in which he challenged perceptions in an era when racist views were part of normality.

Meanwhile from May to September 2016 (dates yet to be confirmed), the British Library will be celebrating punk in Britain in an exhibition that starts with the impact of the Sex Pistols in 1976. Punk 1976-78 will explore punk’s early days in the capital and how its influence spread across fashion, print and graphic styles nationwide.

The exhibition will showcase a range of fanzines, flyers recordings and record sleeves from the British Library’s collections that celebrates 40 years of a radical musical, artistic and political movement.

The final major exhibition at the library is 20th Century Through Maps (4th November-1st March 2017) . This display will explore the history of the 20th century through maps and how they left they left the hands of few and became everyday objects for the first time in the 20th century.

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Alongside the variety of exhibitions that will be available for visitors to explore, the British Library will also be hosting several smaller displays that are equally varied.

Imagining Don Quixote (19th January-22nd May 2016) will explore Cervante’s influential work of literature and will take four key episodes in the novel, examining how they have been interpreted and visualised over time.

Meanwhile, Tang Xianzu Treasures display (April 2016), will look at one of the greatest playwrights of the Chinese tradition and will display a selection of woodblock printed editions from his work. Marking 400 years since his death, the display will also be including illustrated editions of Tang’s masterpiece The Peony Pavilion – an opera that is most loved and the most famous Chinese operas today.

Finally, the library will presenting a display devoted to Thomas More’s work Utopia from the 24th May-2nd October. Utopia at the British Library will feature an original first edition of the text and handwritten letters by Sir Thomas More. Running alongside the free display, the library will be hosting talks and discussions exploring the genesis of More’s Utopia and the development of utopian thinking over 500 years.

Discovering Literature:

The British Library also announced this morning that it is launching the next two phases of Discovering Literature, an educational resource that provides access to the library’s resources – aimed at A-Level students, teachers, undergraduates and anyone with a love of literature.

Shakespeare – as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the British Library will place over 300 Shakespeare -related material from its collections online. This part of the project will explore 15 of the playwright’s plays within their social, political and cultural context.

20th Century Writers – in early summer, the library will publish over 3oo items relating to 20th century literature authors such as Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and Angela Carter.  The material available online will bring the worlds of the writers to life for a new generation.


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