WSC History

The International Shakespeare Association (ISA) was created in part as an umbrella organization to connect Shakespeareans and Shakespeare societies across the globe. The proposal of an International Shakespeare Association was endorsed during a World Shakespeare Congress held in Vancouver in August 1971. A small committee of prominent Shakespeareans, including John Russell Brown, O. B. Harrison, George Hibbard, and Levi Fox, helped shape the association’s original objectives, including advising on the initiation and planning of World Shakespeare Congresses. The original executive committee, like all committees since, was made up of representatives from around the world.

The first ISA World Shakespeare Congress took place in Washington in 1976 as part of the American bicentennial celebrations. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust commissioned gold, silver, and bronze medals to commemorate the meeting. Since the Washington meeting, the ISA has continued to stage World Congresses at five-year intervals: “Shakespeare, Man of the Theatre” (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1981); “Images of Shakespeare” (Berlin, 1986); “Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions” (Tokyo, 1991); “Shakespeare and the Twentieth Century” (Los Angeles, 1996); “Shakespeare and the Mediterranean” (Valencia, 2001); “Shakespeare’s World/World Shakespeares” (Brisbane, 2006); “Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare Renaissances” (Prague, 2011); and “Creating and Recreating Shakespeare” (Stratford-upon-Avon/London, 2016).

Each of the ISA’s World Congresses has attracted in the region of 600 to 800 delegates, representing in excess of forty countries, spread across six continents. This widespread internationalism has been made possible in part through the generous provision, when possible, of travel grants for delegates from developing countries. The rewards from this rich cultural exchange are shared with Shakespeareans worldwide through the publication of the Congress Proceedings. World Shakespeare Congress audiences have been addressed by theater practitioners such as Janet Suzman (Los Angeles, 1996), Adrian Noble (Berlin, 1986), and Gale Edwards (Brisbane, 2006). They have also heard from novelists such as Anthony Burgess (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1981), David Malouf (Brisbane, 2006), Jane Smiley (Los Angeles, 1996), and Marina Warner (Valencia, 2001).

Theatrical performance has been a prominent feature of all World Shakespeare Congresses, and over time delegates have enjoyed performances from, among others, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company (Brisbane, 2006), the Deutsche Oper (Berlin, 1986), Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (Los Angeles, 1996), and Ban’ yu-Inryoku (Tokyo, 1991). In 1981, ISA members enjoyed a recital delivered by their president, Sir John Gielgud. Dame Judi Dench succeeded Gielgud as ISA president after his death in 2000 .

Dr. Nick Walton, ISA Executive Secretary

The International Shakespeare Conference

The World Shakespeare Congress 2016 also absorbs, for 2016, the International Shakespeare Conference held at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. This bi-annual conference is held at the Institute as an international gathering of around 230 leading Shakespeare scholars. It was initiated at Mason Croft in the 1940s under the auspices of the British Council and has been hosted by the Shakespeare Institute since its establishment in 1951.