Past exhibition

SHAKESPEARE TO MADNESS

INTERNATIONAL POSTERS

The exhibition Shakespeare to madness celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  Through more than 80 posters created by international graphic designers, this exhibition and all of the activities organized around it, celebrates the legacy of Shakespeare.

Humanity parades on stage: the jealous Othello, the undecided Hamlet, the usurper Macbeth, the bloodthirsty Richard III, the tragic love of Romeo and Juliet...

Theatre and posters share the public space. They create the environment for social debate when they reach universality, like Shakespeare’s artworks.

Posters by Michal Batory, Anthon BeekeMichel Bouvet, Helmut Feliks Büttner, Stasys Eidrigevičius, Karl Domenic Geissbühler, Eriko Hasumi, Yann Legendre, Jan Lenica, Karel Misek, Kari Piippo, Péter Pócs, Lanny Sommese, Monika Starowicz, ...

A production by the Centre du Graphisme et de la Communication visuelle d’Echirolles (France) in collaboration with the Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image imprimée.

Booklet available in English.


 

William Shakespeare was born around April 23rd 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the heart of England. He disappeared there fifty-two years later (in 1616), exactly on the same date. Was it his destiny or does it refer to a legend full of questions and unexplained absences?  

And whether this man would have been the playwright or not, this immense work is real. This work, written for a very diverse public (aristocrats as well as the mainly illiterate plebs), has been performed in theatres welcoming up to 3.000 spectators who were drinking, eating, laughing and crying during the performances, without showing any respect for the actors and without making the author sacred.   

Shakespeare's plays are inspired by the life in taverns and royal courts. Each play, generally developed around a character giving his soul to it, is a series of surprises, duels, murders and passionate love affairs ending in a bloodbath. The whole is completed with crude jokes or poetry moments of rare elegance. Humanity passes in review on stage: the jealous Othello, the indecisive Hamlet, Macbeth the usurper, Richard III the bloodthirsty one, the tragic love between Romeo and Julia...     

Shakespeare doesn't merely tell a story. His comedies are taken from life. His great tragedies about power and passion are universal. His historical dramas tell the story of the mighty and the valets, and write the legend of the English nation. Throughout the years, famous international poster designers have measured themselves with the immense work of our playwright, including Michal Batory, Anthon Beeke, Michel Bouvet, Helmut Feliks Büttner, Stasys Eidrigevičius, Karl Domenic Geissbühler, Eriko Hasumi, Yann Legendre, Jan Lenica, Karel Misek, Kari Piippo, Péter Pócs, Lanny Sommese, Monika Starowicz...

As from the reign of Elizabeth I (in 1558), and subsequently under the reign of Jacob I and Charles I, the English theatre had its golden era, until 1642, the year in which the puritans temporarily won by obtaining the Parliament's permission to close the theatres.

During that golden era, the theatre troops became more professional and the first permanent theatres opened their doors. Around 1600, there were eight theatres in London; in 1629, there were seventeen of them. At least fifty authors lived from their art. Shakespeare wasn't alone. Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene and Ben Jonson were his contemporaries. Everything was concentrated in London. In 1599, the Globe was built over there; it was financed by five authors, including Shakespeare. With its polygonal shape and 30m diameter, it could welcome more than 2.000 spectators in the galleries on two floors around the stage, under a thatched roof. Due to a cannon-shot, which was part of the staging of Henry VIII, the roof was on fire and the Globe was destroyed on June 29th 1613. In 1996, it was identically rebuilt at a distance of some hundreds of meters from its original location.       

"Everyone's acting."

This sentence, mentioned at the beginning of the exhibition, was engraved on the Globe's pediment.

This poster is a popular creation, just like the theatre. It was inspired by the same sources. It was intended to stimulate the imagination, to disturb the daily life of the passers-by and to make them think, before as well as after the representation. It allowed the poster designer to acquire credentials.  

According to specialists, The Taming of the Shrew, written around 1593-1594, is one of Shakespeare's first plays. This popular work, in which direct language is used, refers to the man/woman relationship in appropriate terms for the 16th century. Shakespeare placed his intrigue among rich and mighty aristocrats in Italy.     

A Midsummer Night's Dream can also be considered one of Shakespeare's early plays; it would have been performed for the first time around 1595-1596. It is a comedy with unbridled fantasy, in which several intrigues are cleverly mixed up and in which the wonderful and the comic constantly meet.

Shakespeare is playing with words and with us. Twelfth Night was developed around the twinning of words, feelings and human beings. Maciej Urbaniec's poster truthfully represents the lightness of the play. Two feathers fall from the sky on a sensual mouth. These two feathers are both similar and different, just like twins. They also refer to the two parallel situations exposed by Shakespeare.   

The Tempest, written in 1611, is the last play Shakespeare composed on its own. This play, classified by specialists in the late romances, is considered to be the artistic testament of the author. Mieczyslaw Górowski imagines a storm which is half angel, half woman. Jan Sawka literally muzzles the supernatural forces. Three raindrops are enough for Yann Legendre to refer to Barde's work.

« Shakespeare nous entraîne dans le dédale et l'illusion du théâtre, pour mieux nous prévenir contre les miroitements du réel et les mirages de la raison » [Shakespeare is taking us through the maze and illusion of theater in order to better protect us against the shading of reality and the mirages of reason] - Preface of The Tempest

Shakespeare wrote his tragedies between 1599 and 1607. They are based on historical chronicles in which a character or devastating feeling is developing from a tragic figure.

For Romeo and Julia, Shakespeare maintained the same plot as in the myth of Pyramus en Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses: two young people belonging to feuding families love each other and commit suicide. The opposition between these two family clans (the Capulets and the Montagues) is expressed by poster designers Roslaw Szaybo and Andrzej Pagowski. Yet, Kari Piippo dares to hope that love can be that open window with a view upon a little piece of blue sky. Michal Batory shares this optimistic and sensitive vision. Sebastian Kubica summarizes this moment of the play when anything seems possible. Romeo climbs the ladder leading to Julia's balcony. There are many variations on the kiss. Karl Domenic Geissbühler gives a chaste and romantic vision of love. Lanny Sommese presents two silhouettes cut out of black paper and placed on a white background.  

Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy performed for the first time in 1604. Péter Pócs represents Othello as a warrior. This poster designer used an old Hungarian habit. He made his motives by means of salt dough that he painted. Subsequently, he photographed what he called his 'room sculptures' and finished his poster with painted letters. The black color is scary. In western tradition, it refers to the darkness of the soul, nothingness, death and mourning. The clenched fist symbolizes the threatening force. These two symbols associated by Michel Bouvet, refer to the play's main character, Othello, and to the latent threat which is present throughout the play, until the tragic ending. According to Anthon Beeke, Othello's eye is marked by the obsessive and murderous jealousy of the brave general. The cross in the pupil fixes our gaze and emphasizes the hero's unchanging thoughts.       

As a fiction hero, Hamlet's character belongs to the great literary and theatrical myths. As literary material, it is constantly being renewed, reinvented by the author who makes it of his own and updates it in his era. The many affiliations, the numerous parallels, don't diminish the genius of the author, who breathes new life into this myth.    

Shakespeare was inspired by a Nordic saga; he took over the tragedy of doubt and uncertainty. Eriko Hasumi reveals the thread of the tragedy just like through a labyrinth. The nervous, continuous trend constitutes the core of the character coming out of a painful situation. The concept of 'confinement' has been taken over by Vladislav Rostoka. A face is shown in frontal view and molten in a black mass of which only the eyes emerge. It is put in a cage with thick bars composed of four interconnected letters 'H'. Kari Piippo made letters out of the images. Two graves are dug next to each other. They are connected by a black shadow and form the letter 'H'.   

Together with Hamlet, Macbeth is the most performed tragedy from Shakespeare's repertoire. The chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland by Raphael Holinshed (1577) are its main source of inspiration. Shakespeare was inspired by it for the murder on King Duncan. Andrzej Pagowski used his poster as a metaphor for paranoia. The warrior helmet is slowly making the king blind.   

Wiktor Sadowski continued his reflection about power, by stating that who owns this power, is being dehumanized and gets isolated. The head gets empty, the human being is fossilizing and the crown is merely an excrescence of the skull. The raven doesn't have a good reputation in Western civilization. Michel Bouvet focuses on the fatal moment when Macbeth chose the path of murder.

Jan Lenica made a poster about the theme of 'disruption'. The new king is literally being disrupted; he is being torn apart in two equal parts. Lady Macbeth comes into the scene, together with Lanny Sommese. She convinces the brave general Macbeth to start murdering. Her face shows a negative crown.    

King Lear is one of Shakespeare's great tragedies; it was written in 1606 and deals with the themes of 'filial love', 'desire' and 'mistakes'. With his usual realism, Anthon Beeke represents King Lear. He photographs in close-up the face of an old man marked by age; he has red circles around his eyes because he cried for his tarnished glory and the mistakes he had made.

Without his royal attributes, King Lear looks like a tired, miserable old man according to Tomasz Boguslawski. Yann Legendre's proposal is completely different: a kind of stylized lily occupies a central place on the poster. This royal flower has the shape of the female sex. However, this is only an optical illusion. The reversed apostrophe separating the title refers to the fall.

Searching for new sources of inspiration, Shakespeare got inspired by the Scottish and English chronicles, alternated with the texts from Greek and Roman antiquity. As a playwright and a poet, he reconstructed the history of England in its own way, according to his interest that was sometimes raised by the tragic actuality. He didn't follow a chronological order. For his poster on which Richard II is being announced, Henryk Tomaszewski gave up on his usual style; no drawing, just a purple square in which the name of the author and the title of the play are mentioned.

Richard III was born mentally and physically deformed. Yet, the visual of the poster from 1985 consists of the photograph of a one-eyed man. This poster designer makes us think about how we look at other people's deformities (or differences). On Karel Míšek's poster, Richard III acquired the royal attributes (the crown and the ermine mantle) at the expense of his humanity. He falls into nothingness, with the blood splashes of his victims on his clothes.   

The circa 80 posters presented during the exhibition are the visual and synthetic representation of his work. In his works, Shakespeare wrote the legend of the English nation. On the posters announcing these works, we can see how society is like: tolerant or puritan, free or constrained. Their meeting is also the one between our era and the past.

(extracts from the catalogue ‘Shakespeare à la folie – Affiches internationales’, Diego Zaccaria, Editions du Limonaire, 2015).