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What Is a Shakespeare Festival?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A Shakespeare festival is an event or organization dedicated to theater and typically focused on performances of the works of William Shakespeare. These festivals can take a number of forms, but are usually either short-term events or are actually groups of performers who put on plays and events throughout the year. A short-term Shakespeare festival is typically held over the course of a few weeks each year and attendees can come at different times to learn about Shakespeare and see performances of his plays. Organizations, on the other hand, typically put on numerous plays throughout the year, often focusing primarily on Shakespeare’s works.

Although the main purpose of a Shakespeare festival is typically to celebrate the works of William Shakespeare, other dramatic and comedic works may also be performed. As live theater has largely been replaced in popular attendance by television and movies, these festivals remain a way for fans of such performances to still see actors in person. These events typically require tickets to attend, though some free performances of Shakespearean works are presented in public venues. Staging of Shakespeare’s plays may also be part of a larger event, such as a Renaissance or Elizabethan festival that celebrates a particular time in history.

One common form of Shakespeare festival is a short-term event that focuses on a group of actors putting on a performance of one or more of his plays. These may be direct productions based on Shakespeare’s writing, or can be a re-imagining of a classic work. Other activities may also be part of this type of event, such as games and informative displays that can help younger people learn about drama and the history of theater. A Shakespeare festival might present a few selections of scenes from different plays, and then culminate in a performance of one play in its entirety.

The term “Shakespeare festival” can also be used by a group or organization that actually manages itself more as a theater troupe. When used in this context, the festival may exist year-round and put on performances of Shakespeare’s works and other plays at different times. This often presents audiences with a number of opportunities each year to attend a live performance, either of a Shakespearean play or of another famous work. In the fall, for example, a Shakespeare festival might put on a tragic performance. During the winter holidays, however, they can perform a play about Christmas, written by someone else, and then resume Shakespeare’s works in the spring with a comedy.

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