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A sneak peek of 'To Bee or not to Bee'

Bee in the City: Why has Manchester Metropolitan chosen the Shakespeare Bee?

16 July 2018

The Bard and the Bee symbolise the creative collaborative ethos of the University, explains Shakespeare practitioner David Shirley

The buzz on campus is growing ahead of the launch of Bee in the City – Manchester’s biggest ever public art exhibition.

Manchester Metropolitan is proudly supporting the initiative, which will see a swarm of over 100 giant bee sculptures descend on the city centre for an interactive trail.

We are hosting the Shakespeare Bee – aptly named ‘To Bee or not to Bee’. To whet our appetites, Director of the Manchester School of Theatre and Shakespeare practitioner David Shirley previews the Bee and why we chose it.

Bees represent industry and collaboration – just like Manchester Metropolitan

Bees are often regarded as a symbol for organisation and industry. This University has a long tradition serving the various industries that help make the city great. In recent years, Manchester has emerged as a leader in the fields of of culture, performance, literature and music.

Manchester School of Art, the Manchester Writing School and the Manchester School of Theatre have very strong links and partnerships across the city and their artistic and creative influence extends both nationally and internationally.

A centre for cultural activity and - something like a hive – this University helps to produce riches and benefits for us all.

Manchester School of Theatre's 2017 production of Twelfth Night

The Bee in the City initiative is also a fitting curtain-raiser for the new Arts and Humanities building, which will bring two of these fantastic schools under one roof. Opening in 2020, the building will be home to the Writing School, a brand new Poetry Library and a 180-seat auditorium for Manchester School of Theatre productions. Likewise, the new School of Digital Arts, opening in 2021, will provide an interdisciplinary place for academia and industry to come together and teach the digital skills and screen for the future.

The connection between Shakespeare and bees

Shakespeare has an instinctive feel for nature - this is evident in all of his plays and a sonnets. The natural environment provides the backdrop for the worlds he creates; for instance screeching owls in Macbeth or the 'precious stone set in a silver sea' for Richard II.

References to herbs, plants and animals provide important clues to the landscape Shakespeare creates. These things complete the picture and guide our interpretation. Some of these connections will be evident in the quotes painted onto the bee.

    ​The most direct reference to bees can be found by Canterbury from Henry V:

       Therefore doth heaven divide 
The state of man in divers functions, 
Setting endeavor in continual motion, 
To which is fixèd as an aim or butt 
Obedience; for so work the honeybees, 
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach 
The act of order to a peopled kingdom. 
They have a king and officers of sorts, 
Where some like magistrates correct at home, 
Others like merchants venture trade abroad, 
Others like soldiers armèd in their stings 
Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds, 
Which pillage they with merry march bring home 
To the tent royal of their emperor, 
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys 
The singing masons building roofs of gold, 
The civil citizens kneading up the honey, 
The poor mechanic porters crowding in 
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate, 
The sad-eyed justice with his surly hum 
Delivering o’er to executors pale 
The lazy yawning drone. (1.2.191-212)

How we teach Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Bee represents the creative ethos we imbibe at the University. In the School of Theatre, we teach Shakespeare through practice. Embodying the rhythms, meter and energy of his work through characterisation and scenework. It isn't taught in an academic way at all, but rather as a form of theatre practice.

Manchester School of Theatre's 2017 production of Twelfth Night

The Shakespeare term is the highlight of the year for our students; they love discovering and inhabiting the plays and speaking the verse. For many, Shakespeare represents a transformative experience where they encounter great poetry and language and amazing characters and situations. His worlds are compelling and our students can't get enough of him.

What next?

The bees will fly into the city on 23 July and the interactive trail will run until 23 September. You can get involved by downloading the Bee in the City app, which will help you navigate around the city, discover new places, and find and unlock each bee – more information on the app will be released at a later date.

The location of our Manchester Metropolitan bee will be kept a secret until the launch on 23 July, so keep your eyes peeled for further updates.