B.I.’s Shakespeare Week & New Director

Simon Gammell, a photo for an upcoming book by Stefano Amantini

April 9 – 12:  SHAKESPEARE WEEK.  British Institute Library, Lungarno Guicciardini 9.  A daily library membership is necessary to participate (€6) for all events except the public reading of Julius Caesar and the IASEMS Graduate Conference at the British Institute of Florence.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” is a line written by William Shakespeare which doubles as a perfect invitation to the week celebrating the Bard himself. This year’s festivities will center around the play Julius Caesar and include a lecture by the new director, Simon Gammell.


Begin your journey back in time by watching Julius Caesar, a movie classic, on April 9. The following day, April 10, will include a lecture entitled Killing Caesar by a man who has studied at Cambridge and University of London, established an Anglo-Italian theatre group in Florence and acted as a Theater Director for many years: the director of the Institute himself, Simon Gammell. To follow will be a viewing of the 2012 film Cesare Deve Morire. And between the lecture and the film there will be a wine tasting with a special Shakespearean twist.

Listen or feel free to contribute to the group recitation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar on April 11 at 2:30 pm. The play will be read from beginning to end with individuals joining in with passages in English or the language of their choice. As the story flows from many voices, join the centuries of individuals who have come to admire the rhetoric of Mark Anthony, the fatal mistakes of Brutus, the ‘honourable man,’ and the fast-moving story of conspiracy and assassination interwoven into this play. For a full British experience, join the afternoon tea at 5 pm in the Harold Acton Library. This tradition promises to be a whirlwind of delightful conversation and delicious treats.

Throughout the week, one can look forward to an art exhibition hosted in the library, which will bring a fresh take on Julius Caesar created by students grades 7 and 8 from the International School of Florence.

The last day of the festival, April 12, the IASEMS Graduate Conference will be held from 9:15 am – 5:15 pm. This academic forum, held by PhD students and researchers, will dissect the idea of the crowd and mass communication in early modern English literature and society.


The classic black and white 1953 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar will be presented at 3 pm on Tuesday, April 9. Written around 1599, drama and politics merge as the play tells the story of Rome during the rule of Julius Caesar, and his murder. Though Caesar is the centerpiece, the internal struggle of Brutus is a large focus of the film, from his patriotism for his country to friendship with his leader, and himself.

The talented Marlon Brando, best known for being Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, plays the loyal Mark Antony in the film. English/American actor James Mason is cast in the complex role of Brutus, and Louis Calhern is Julius Caesar.  The film is in English and runs 121 minutes.


Also scheduled is a showing of the 2012 Italian drama, Cesare Deve Morire, “Caesar Must Die,” directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, on April 10 at 8 pm. The film, in Italian and running one hour and 17 minutes, is set in the Rebibbia jail in Rome, and follows the story of a convicts in maximum security, who have the opportunity to perform in a prison production of the play Julius Caesar.

The stories of characters in the play begin to intertwine with the lives of the prisoners.  The themes of power, lack of liberty, and guilt and remorse, stretch beyond Shakespeare’s play and are carried forward throughout the movie.

The protagonists were actual prisoners, and Paolo Taviani hopes that through their work the world can see that “even a prisoner with a dreadful sentence, even a life sentence, is and remains a human being.” The decision was made to film a large portion of the movie in black and white, for a dramatic impact, and to alter how the audience views reality.


The British Institute itself celebrates over 100 years of presence in Florence and significant cultural contributions for English and Italians alike.  The current Director of the British Institute, Simon Gammell, began assimilating into his role in autumn 2018 with a steadfast desire to continue the long-standing relationship between Italy and Great Britain and with a hope of strengthening cultural and language programs.

Gammell’s background and experience make him a fitting addition to the Institute. His passion for Florence has only grown since the very first time he traveled to the city at age 17. He was initially “enchanted and fascinated” by it and thus couldn’t help but return to the Renaissance city a few years later after finishing his education at the University of Cambridge and post-graduate study at the University of London. Immediately after his academics, he secured a position teaching English for the Institute. During this time, he also established and directed the Florence Rep, a well-regarded Anglo-Italian group of actors.

In his time thereafter, he returned to the UK, holding a position as Theatre Director for many years. This work was followed by a myriad of British Council postings all over the globe in places like Rome, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Sydney. His valuable contributions to these locations garnered him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award (OBE) in 2004.

His love of Florence has enticed him, once again, to return and accept the title of Director. Since transitioning here, he has recognized that Florence has evolved just as he has in the last number of years.

Settling into his role, he recognizes that, “The Institute has a wonderful tradition, a heritage which is woven into the very fabric of the Lanfredini rooms.” He aims to reflect this legacy while addressing the needs of the 21st century. In particular, he envisions libraries to expand to become “spaces for cultural, educational and social convening, supported by focused collections of books and audio-visual material,” an idea which underlies his vision.

He does not expect dramatic changes to the B.I. library, cultural courses, and language classes, but simply a shift allowing them to evolve, planning invest and improve in their English, Italian and History of Art offerings. An innovative course has been recently initiated, combining Italian language with cooking and cuisine, entitled Gustando L’Italiano.

Gammell emphasizes the opportunity of the Institute to become “more open and inclusive” as to remain a powerful part of the cultural and educational life of the city. He is working on expanding their relationship with local and international partners by “welcoming everyone who wants to participate, and encouraging partners to do their events and programmes in these rooms.” Most recently, he has worked with Odeon Cinema to bring the best new British films to the Florence and is responsible for Henry Moore’s sculpture loaned to Florence, Warrior with Shield, which can be viewed at the cloister of Santa Croce.


The British Institute itself celebrates over 100 years of presence in Florence and significant cultural contributions for English and Italians alike. Their locations surrounding the Arno include a language center functioning in Palazzo dello Strozzino and a Library and Cultural Center in Palazzo Lanfredini. Events in these buildings are often brimming with both visitors and residents participating in programs emphasizing English and Italian language, art history and live drawing.

In addition to these programs, the Institute stands as a home away from home for English speaking expats and study abroad students.  (kimberly brooking/additional reporting by madison perez)

Further information can be found on www.britishinstitute.it.