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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Dench heads new Shakespeare society
Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love
Dame Judi played Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love
Actors, directors and academics have come together to launch the British Shakespeare Association - described as the first UK society dedicated to the writer.

Dame Judi Dench - who won an Oscar for her performance in Shakespeare In Love - has agreed to head the organisation as patron.

The association was launched on Friday when its inaugural conference got under way at De Montfort University in Leicester.

More than 100 countries from the US to China already have such organisations, according to the association - but the UK did not until now.

Professor Julia Briggs, a Shakespeare expert and one of the society's founders, said British academics had long been travelling to take part in similar meetings overseas.

We want it to be Shakespeare for everybody
Professor Julia Briggs
De Montfort University
"We simply thought 'this is mad'. We go to all these national Shakespeare association meetings but we don't have one in Britain, which is the most obvious place to have one."

The group hoped to bring together everybody with an interest - from performers and academics to teachers and enthusiasts, she said.

"[We want] it not to be academic - we want it to be Shakespeare for everybody," she said.

Hundreds of fans and professionals from places including Japan and Canada are among those at the conference.


The conference was opened by director and English Shakespeare Company co-founder Michael Bogdanov.

And writer Andrew Davies gave a talk about the making of his acclaimed TV adaptation, Othello at the Met, which was set in a modern-day police department.

Actors including Sam West, David Tennant and Will Houston are taking part in Shakespearian acting masterclasses.

Dame Judi joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961 and owns the full-scale replica of Shakespeare's first theatre used in Shakespeare In Love.

Although the Royal Shakespeare Company has been performing the Bard's work for 40 years, the new association is the first group to focus on the study of his writing.

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