Thursday 04 August 2016
  • ·         The British Council has commissioned a unique collection of essays, entitled ‘Living Shakespeare’, which explore current global issues through the lens of Shakespeare’s works
  •            US Secretary of State John Kerry and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka are among the authors
  • ·         Topics covered in the essays include: responding to extremism; optimism in diplomacy; female empowerment in India; racial conflict in South Africa and thoughts on what it really means to hear.

The British Council has unveiled a unique collection of essays entitled ‘Living Shakespeare’ as part of its Shakespeare Lives programme, which is a global celebration of the influence of William Shakespeare on culture, language education and society. Each essay is authored by an international public figure and explores a current issue through Shakespeare’s work, demonstrating his continuing relevance in the 21st century.

Each author was invited to write from a personal perspective and the diverse set of contributors draw on contemporary social, political and emotional experiences to make comparisons with Shakespeare’s works.

Alongside John Kerry, other authors include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin; renowned Algerian novelist Ahlem Mosteghanemi; South African director and actor John Kani; and deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

An excerpt from John Kerry’s essay, titled ‘As You Like It: The Inspiration of Comedy’, reads: “For those of us who strive to bring peace and security to the world, these plays provide a guiding path and encouragement that with will, determination and faith, we can find resolution to the most complex, and even absurd situations.”

British Council Chief Executive Ciarán Devane said: “The core themes of Shakespeare’s plays – identity, power, faith, meaning, humanity itself – resonate across generations today, and are central to our culture. In this respect the presence of political and emotional insight is no surprise. Indeed, it seems that whatever facet of humanity is sought, it may be found in Shakespeare’s works.”

The British Council, the BBC and The Open University have worked in partnership on the project, which will also see the BBC World Service produce a series of short films featuring some of the essayists – John Kani, Kalki Koechlin and Evelyn Glennie – and which will be supported by free-to-access online learning resources from The Open University. The films will be launched on the BBC in September 2016. 

Notes to Editor

Essays by John Kerry, Wole Soyinka and Ahlem Mosteghanemi will be available to read online at, alongside biographies of the authors. The remaining essays will be available to read online in September to coincide with the launch of the BBC World Service films. 

About the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives programme

Shakespeare Lives 2016 is a global celebration of the influence of William Shakespeare on culture, language, education and society. The British Council, the GREAT Britain campaign and an unprecedented number of partners will commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death with a series of initiatives including a unique online collaboration, performances on stage and film, exhibitions, public readings, conversations, debates and educational resources that people around the world and of all ages can actively join in with from January to December 2016.

GREAT/British Council Shakespeare Lives targets: to reach half a billion people and £60m ROI (on £2 million from the GREAT Britain Campaign which the British Council has matched with £2 million, both spread over two Financial Years). 

About The Open University

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has almost 180,000 current students, including more than 15,000 overseas. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

The OU has a 42 year partnership with the BBC and has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to co-producing prime-time series such as The Hunt, Life Story, The Bottom Line, Britain’s Great War, I Bought a Rainforest and Business Boomers. In 2013/14 OU co-productions were viewed by 220m people in the UK which prompted more than 600k visits the OU’s free learning website, OpenLearn:

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which received 5.2million unique visitors in 2012/13, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded more than 66 million downloads.    For further information please visit:

About the BBC World Service

BBC World Service delivers news content around the world, on radio, TV and digital, reaching a weekly audience of 246 million. As part of BBC World Service, BBC Learning English teaches English to global audiences.  The BBC World Service Group operates around the world in 30 languages, on radio, TV and digital. The BBC attracts a weekly global news audience of 320 million people to its international news services including BBC World Service, BBC World News television channel and  


About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes. We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 16 per cent of our turnover which last year was £973 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

For more information, please visit: You can also keep in touch with the British Council through and