Mariangela Temperas love affair with William Shakespeare began back in the early 1970s, when she was a young student in London.

I was working on my thesis on L.P. Hartley at the time and I

didnt really know all that much about Shakespeare. However, I happened to go to the theatre to see a production by Peter Brook of A Midsummer Nights Dream. She chuckles as she recalls that she thought she would have difficulty following it and took along the text. Instead, she was completely overwhelmed by the performance. A lifelong passion was born that led her, later in her career as professor at the University of Ferrara, to found the Shakespeare Centre, a unique institution which has become a point of reference for Shakespeare students and lovers all over Italy.

The fact that the centre is based in Ferrara is more than a happy coincidence. Ferrara is a charming renaissance town of about 150,000 inhabitants, built around a magnificent old ducal castle. Its links with the bard go back 500 years; one of the citys illustrious sons, the 16th-century writer and theatre theorist, Giovan Battista Giraldi Cinzio, was the source of some of Shakespeares material. When Tempera approached the local authorities to ask for support, she found fertile ground. The Shakespeare Centre was formed as a joint partnership between the university and the council of Ferrara, which assigned one of its employees, Vanni Borghi, to take over the role of secretary. Borghi, another Shakespeare enthusiast, has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the task of assistant and co-ordinator.

The centres vast visual documentation archive is housed on city council premises next to the Teatro Comunale, which also plays a major role in initiatives aimed at promoting Shakespeares works in local schools. The collection contains some 1,500 items, catalogued by play title, which can be consulted by teachers and students. It includes not only copies of films both acclaimed and forgotten dating back to the early years of last century, but also assorted works, parodies and commercials inspired by Shakespearean quotes and plots, material that the centre considers important in documenting the English dramatists fundamental role in popular European culture.

Tempera has introduced a revolutionary approach to Shakespeare in the classroom. Shakespeare is not part of the school curriculum in Italy, so children have no reason to hate his work. The language of the translations is modern Italian. Unlike English students, they do not have to struggle with unfamiliar words and sentence construction, she declared in a recent lecture at a language teachers conference.

She also believes that the younger the better. The project From the text to the stage involves local schools from the tiny tots of the primary school to students at high school level. The annual programme, which was launched in 1993 as the Macbeth witch project and which culminated in a festival co-sponsored by the British Council, has been enthusiastically followed by thousands of pupils.

The programme works as follows: each year, the university chooses a work by Shakespeare, which the participating schools are free to elaborate and interpret as they choose. The end result can range from a theatrical performance (faithfully or loosely based on the original), an oral presentation, a dance or musical composition, a poster, a series of paintings, a video, a construction like a stage set, or even the design for a t-shirt logo. On average, the programme involves some 700 active participants.

At the end of the scholastic year, the works are exhibited at the Grotte Boldini gallery in Ferrara, or performed at the Teatro Comunale, with the willing help of the theatres director, Gisberto Morselli, who loans the venue free of charge.

Ferraras links with the Stratford bard have been especially strong this year, when the town held a six-month Shakespeare Festival, culminating in a memorable performance of Peter Brooks version of La tragedie dHamlet (in French, with Italian subtitles). The festival programme included a series of concerts of classical music inspired by Shakespeare, lectures and seminars, organised by the university and the Shakespeare Centre, a Shakespeare and the Cinema review, and a fascinating exhibition entitled Shakespeare in Art held in the historic Palazzo dei Diamanti, featuring works by Hogarth, Blake, Fuseli, Turner, Delacroix, Hayez and other grand masters of European Romanticism.

The links will continue to be underlined next year. 2004 marks the fifth centenary of the birth of Giraldi Cinzio, whose gloomy Hecatommithi was the source for Shakespeares dark comedy, Measure for Measure, the play chosen by the Shakespeare Centre for schools to work on this year. The results, as usual, will be on display next spring.

Centro Shakespeariano,

c/o Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Ferrara.

Tel. 0532202317, 339/7556543, e-mail: vay@dns.unife.it.

Picture: Mariangela Tempra's Shakespeare Centre in Ferrara promotes the English dramatist's work in Italy.