Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright



Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright. The exhibition marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and has been curated by Victoria Broakes (one of the curators of David Bowie is). It features exhibition design by 59 productions (also exhibition designers of David Bowie is). The historical subject matter sits in contrast to that of the David Bowie exhibition, but it is worth noting that Bowie considered himself to be part of a British Music Hall tradition andDavid Bowie is originated in the department of Theatre and Performance at the V&A. This repeat collaboration was born out of curatorial discussions and Jonathan’s renewed obsession with the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.


The logo, drawn by Barnbrook especially for the exhibition, employs the same modular principles as the VirusFonts typeface Bastard. The spirit of Bastard – historical letterforms drawn with a contemporary eye – echoes the concept of this exhibition: viewing the works of Shakespeare as contemporary, relevant and living ideas.


In response to this theatrical re-imagining and in an attempt to subvert audience expectations, a monochrome mural was created using a contemporary design language. The mural details facts and figures about the life, works and performances of Shakespeare and is set in a myriad of VirusFonts, alluding to the literary heritage of the exhibition. The mural provides a wider context for the exhibition as well as accessibly introducing what can be seen as a somewhat demanding subject.


The mural follows a logical scale, starting with the smallest element – the breath with which words are spoken – and culminating with planet earth and our position in the cosmos. Below this a numerical scale running from left to right illustrates statistics about the life and works of Shakespeare.


Few literary figures have had such an impact on our language as Shakespeare – his quoted (and misquoted) phrases have evolved over time and become part of our everyday lives. This shaping of our language is illustrated on the outer wall of the entrance and forms the basis of a limited edition screen print, each individually signed by Jonathan Barnbrook and available from the V&A shop.

Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright runs from Saturday 8 February until Sunday 28 September at the Victoria and Albert Museum.