It’s a June day in 1847. Scenes from a play appear as part of Commencement exercises at the University of Notre Dame. Back then, it was just a handful of buildings. You could probably still smell fresh paint and lumber. Onstage, the play is Henry IV. This was the beginning of a culture of Shakespearean performance and analysis at the University of Notre Dame, and it grew into a permanent and revered institution.
Regular performances of Shakespeare's work became the ideal way for the University to educate itself. Notre Dame staged at least 53 Shakespearean productions between 1847 and 1943 — roughly one for every two academic years. These performances gave the Notre Dame campus, and the surrounding community, the opportunity not only to experience Shakespearean theatre, but be a part of it as well.
Shakespeare at the University continued throughout the 20th century, with Shakespeare an ever-present, if not permanent, part of the curriculum. But for many years, Shakespearean culture at Notre Dame had never been centralized; the sporadic but well-received Shakespearean productions and events on campus were staged independently by different departments and programs.
Enter Dr. Paul Rathburn. Rathburn’s 35-year teaching career at Notre Dame began in 1965 culminated, in 2000, with his creation of the “Shakespeare Initiative,” a multimillion-dollar strategic vision for Shakespearean scholarship, production, educational outreach, and academic research under the auspices of the University.
From that initiative grew several programs which instantly expanded Notre Dame’s impact not only into its surrounding community, but around the world. They included the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival (NDSF), featuring a professional mainstage production, a touring production, and community productions; and Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS), a twice-yearly 5-actor touring residency. Many other performances and events have been produced under the Shakespeare at Notre Dame umbrella, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Our motto is simple: World class theatre. Right next door. It's our promise to our audience, and the guiding principle for everything that's yet to come.