Library celebrates South Asia's links between the Bard and Birmingham

  • Our reporter Raheem Rashid speaks to those spreading the message about the links between Shakespeare's works and South Asia

While Stratford takes the crowning glory of being the birthplace of the Bard, it's a little known fact that the biggest collection of Shakespeare works actually sits in Birmingham.

Up at the very top of the Library of Birmingham around 100,000 pieces from around the world have been gathered - many of them from South Asia.

The collection - which started in the 1860s - is made up of texts, videos, photos and posters from reinterpretations of the Bard's scriptures throughout the years.

The collection has translations in nearly 100 languages - 13 of which are South Asian.

Indi Deol, Director of the DesiBlitz magazine, said Shakespeare's works have been in South Asian for centuries: "Shakespeare was taken to India during the 17th century during the Colonial period.

"It was taken to India to teach the Indians English, so India has had a long history of Shakespeare, so therefore naturally we're gonna have Shakespeare in Bengali, in Punjabi, in Hindi and Urdu."

Last year, just under 60,000 visitors came to an exhibition of the Bard's works during the Commonwealth Games, this year, the library teamed up with Indi to take the Bard to Birmingham's classrooms - travelling round in a specially designed van to schools where they'd share the international interpretations of Shakespeare.

Indi said: "What we want to do is share that with young people, that Shakespeare is for everybody and for everybody."

'The Shakespeare library isn't really about Shakespeare himself'

Describing what the collection of works means to her, Lauren Jansen-Parkes, who works for the Everything to Everybody project - which is a National Lottery Heritage funded collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council - said: "The Shakespeare library to me isn't really about Shakespeare himself, the man or the plays. For those, we've got the incredible collections in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust or universities."

She added: "What the Birmingham collection tells us is how real people, everyday people from all over the planet have been inspired by, engaged with and ultimately made it their they've been inspired by, engaged with and performed with Shakespeare and ultimately made it their own."

'Shakespeare would've been an Indian if he was around today'

Many of Shakespeare's works have crossed the globe, and lasted many centuries in time. The themes covered in his works; relationships, power struggles, culture, family - all feature within households and communities around the world, meaning many often feel involved and able to reinterpret his work with skill.

Indi said: "Some say Shakespeare would've been an Indian if he was around today...the whole thing about Shakespeare is about relationships, family, culture and the power struggle. All these things we see in Bollywood films and movies today - Shakespeare has all of that within his books and plays."