In America, Shakespeare inspired more than 500 clubs to form in the last century (roughly 1880-1940), in nearly every corner of every state. Comprised mainly of women, these groups met to read, study, and perform Shakespeare. Their efforts often extended beyond the confines of their homes, and many clubs engaged in programs for social change, education, and literacy; including founding public libraries, supporting local charities, advocating for children's education, and campaigning for women's suffrage. Through a variety of local and national activities, these women engaged in plans of study and civic involvement that kept Shakespeare accessible, available, and relevant. For many of these women, Shakespeare provided a venue for social and political action, and through their engagement with Shakespeare, women could discuss such topics as marital relations, political issues, women's rights, and women's place in society and in the home. Most of these women were not famous authors, public figures, or well-known household names, but they testify to Shakespeare's lasting influence on ordinary people in ordinary places.
These Shakespeare clubs are one example of the Bard’s long afterlife. Shakespeare is not only the author of a set of texts from a particular time and place, he is also the originator of texts that have an extensive afterlife, in our modern world and in the intervening centuries since Shakespeare’s day. This afterlife extends globally, in almost every country of the world. The story of how this writer from the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon has been transformed into a global presence also has a long history of inspiring readers and audiences from all walks of life. Shakespeare the man from Stratford still matters today, but so too does the long history of readers and audiences who have been influenced by his plays and poetry.