This year, the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death is being celebrated across the globe. Although his death took place in April, there are events scheduled throughout the year—ranging from performances to lectures to parades—commemorating this significant playwright and his legacy. However, 2016 is more than just the 400th anniversary of a single man’s death—the year marks many significant events from 400 years ago.
This year marks the anniversary of the publication of Ben Jonson’s first folio; an edition that was the first of its kind. It paved the way for the work of other playwrights to be collected in this way, although it initially sparked controversy over the idea of publishing a living dramatist’s plays in a single volume labelled “works”.
In addition, 2016 marks the death of Philip Henslowe. Without his diary we would know much less about how the theatre industry worked during the early modern period. This document provides insight in to the running of theatre companies from the perspective of a business man—although Henslowe also ventured into real estate and spent time acting as Master of the Bears.
Shakespeare was not the only dramatist to pass away in 1616. Francis Beaumont, of the famous Beaumont and Fletcher pairing and author of the hilariously metatheatrical The Knight of the Burning Pestle, also died that year. Other literary and dramatic communities faced losses as well. Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes—author of Don Quixote, the first modern novel —also died in April of 1616. Chinese dramatist Tang Xianzu, who was one of the most prominent writers of the Ming period in drama and is most famous for his Four Dreams, died a few months later.
Ultimately, 1616 was a significant year for theatre and literature in many ways, and this month’s library exhibition provides an overlook of many of the astounding events that took place 400 years ago.
Katherine Knowles, Casual Library Support Assistant