This Shakespeare’s Tercentenary Birth Commemorative Medallion was issued in 1864 to celebrate the Tercentenary Anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, alongside with many concerts and performances in London. The obverse features Shakespeare; the reverse, his birthplace in Stratford. The medallion looks seemingly impartial in commemorating the birth of the Bard, but if we take a look into popular politics in nineteenth-century industrial England, a commemorative medallion featuring Shakespeare’s birthplace in the idyllic English countryside marks a glaring criticism against industrialization, in which the poor were to pay the price. Both the rich and the poor used Shakespeare to represent them and to promote their political agendas. The rich saw Shakespeare as their cultural peer, and they went so far as to build a replica of Shakespeare's Birthplace and opened it to visitors in London's Crystal Palace! In contrast, the poor saw Shakespeare as their social peer, because of his low-birth status (such identity, however, has been subjected to debate). A medallion like this one is more than just a souvenir because it is loaded with popular political motives in a country emerging to become the world power. Two years later, in 1866, Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets became mandatory in English schools.
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