The history of performing Shakespeare in Europe and the establishment of European Shakespeare Studies have been closely connected with European culture and politics. The emergence of the European Shakespeare Research Association, ESRA, has coincided with the fall of Communism and the political transformations in Europe after 1989, as well as the growing professionalisation and internationalisation of Shakespeare criticism. In the twenty‐first century, European studies of Shakespeare continue to flourish, with vibrant research centres extending from Murcia in Spain to Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, and with a dynamic European Shakespeare Festivals Network. At the heart of European Shakespeare Studies has been the examination of Shakespeare's reception in different national traditions across Europe. Performance criticism has played a crucial role in this process, given that theatre as a medium transcends linguistic barriers, while encouraging local traditions of translation and staging. Productions of Shakespeare have also provided a forum for articulating current political and social concerns, particularly in times of censorship, which has made them exceptionally appealing to scholars interested in national cultures and histories. This article outlines four aspects that represent Shakespeare's relationship with European performance: theatrical exchanges between England and the Continent as the beginning of the European Shakespeare tradition, translation as an integral part of stage practice, the significance of performance criticism in European Shakespeare Studies and the notion of a shared European theatre tradition. Their discussion combines elements of a historical narrative with a critical overview. The article concludes with new perspectives in the twenty‐first century Shakespeare productions, as the Eurozone debt crisis and immigration crisis pose new challenges and responsibilities for artists and academics.