The British Council has commissioned 'Living Shakespeare', a collection of essays by eminent thinkers around the world, from politicians to Nobel Prize-winning writers, interpreting themes in Shakespeare’s work for today.

Each author was invited to write from a personal perspective and the diverse set of contributors draw on contemporary social, political and emotional experiences to make comparisons with Shakespeare’s works.

The issues raised include optimism in diplomacy, female empowerment, listening, racial integration, and a response to extremism.

The essayists in the collection include: US Secretary of State John Kerry; Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka; Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin; Ahlem Mosteghanemi, the most popular writer in the Arab world; renowned South African director and actor John Kani; and solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie. More essays will be announced throughout 2016.

The British Council is working in partnership with the BBC and the Open University on this project. The BBC World Service is making a series of short films with the some of essayists including Kani, Koechlin and Glennie, supported by free-to-access online learning resources from the Open University.

Ahlem Mosteghanemi: When Shakespeare Thought I Was Cleopatra

Four centuries on, the world is still talking of Romeos and Juliets and star-crossed lovers – but in her playful Living Shakespeare story, the Arab world’s most popular writer Ahlem Mosteghanemi has taken the idea of Shakespeare as our contemporary a step further by exploring what might happen if a Jacobean gentleman were to join an Algerian novelist for a winter city break. Light hearted and fun, but still with a serious theme: why do they search in vain for a modern-day Cleopatra on the streets of Cairo?

About Ahlem Mosteghanemi

Ahlem Mosteghanemi is a contemporary Algerian poet and novelist, among the most successful Arabic writers of our time. Her first novel, Memory in the Flesh, published in 1993, has sold over a million copies across the Arabic-speaking world. It was translated into English after winning the 1998 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. The final volume of her acclaimed trilogy, The Bridges of Constantine, spanning Algeria's tumultuous recent history, was also published in English in 2016.

Ahlem Mosteghanemi was born in exile, during a time of great turmoil in Algeria. Her experiences as the daughter of a French teacher, turned Algerian liberation fighter, shaped her vision and provided inspiration for her writing. As one of the first students in the new Arabic schools in independent Algeria, she puts tremendous value in being able to write and express herself freely in Arabic.

When she released Memory in the Flesh it became an instant bestseller in the Arab world, as did her next four novels. Delving into human tragedy and unfulfilled dreams, her writing has universal appeal. Her work has also been translated into several languages and adapted into a television series.

Ahlem has been named UNESCO Artist for Peace and its Peace Messenger for two years from mid-2016.

John Kerry: As You Like It, The Inspiration of Comedy

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is the first among our Living Shakespeare essayists to have chosen to explore one of Shakespeare’s comedies. While his tragedies command our attention through their existential weight, when reading Secretary Kerry’s essay, pause to think of the importance of laughter and enjoyment, and the power of optimism.

From his role in international diplomacy in which all the world is his stage, Secretary Kerry acknowledges the challenges the world faces while drawing insights from Rosalind’s successful pursuit of harmony in this profound and uplifting essay As You Like It: The Inspiration of Comedy.

About John Kerry

John Kerry is the 68th Secretary of State for the United States. He was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in the 2004 presidential election. 

In 2009, Secretary Kerry became Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, assuming a leadership role on key foreign policy and national security issues facing the United States, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, nuclear nonproliferation and global climate change. 

In 2010, Secretary Kerry was instrumental in the ratification of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) Treaty, a vital nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia that helps steer both countries away from dangerous nuclear confrontations. 

In his 28 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Kerry chaired the Asia and Middle East subcommittees where he authored and passed major legislation on international drug trafficking, international money laundering, humanitarian aid, and climate change, and he helped negotiate the UN’s genocide tribunal to prosecute war crimes in Cambodia.


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