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History - Bard to the bone

Explore the playwright's life and the turbulent world he inhabited

Explore the playwright's life and the turbulent world he inhabited

His name may feature prominently in the title of a new British Museum exhibition, but don't go expecting a conventional biographical exploration of Shakespeare's life. Rather, the 190 objects on show have been chosen to shed light on aspects of the playwright's often turbulent historic times, and many illuminate aspects of his plays in fascinating ways.

Shakespeare: Staging the World, which runs until 25 November, is particularly useful in charting the shifting sense of national identity during the last part of Elizabeth I's reign and the early years of her successor, James I.

Objects such as the sword, helmet and shield - once on display above Henry V's tomb in Westminster Abbey - were a part of any visitor's itinerary during a trip to Elizabethan London and underline the kind of post-Armada English confidence that also found expression in Shakespeare's history plays of the 1590s.

"The exhibition will be ideal for primary children studying the Tudors and Tudor London," says Richard Woff, the British Museum's head of schools. Of particular interest should be a number of 16th- and early 17th-century items that have never been displayed before, and some that have only recently been excavated. Among these are dice and a brass-topped iron fork, found during archaeological exploration of the Rose Playhouse site in London, which are both suggestive of the area's other attractions (sweetmeats) and pitfalls (gambling and con men).

Jerome Monahan is a teacher and education writer. He also delivers workshops nationally and internationally

What else?

Online resources will be available from the British Museum from September. Private views for teachers and more can be found on the museum's educational site.

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