This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of prominent writer William Shakespeare’s death and Keene State College has planned a semester-long series of events celebrating the works of the literary genius. Last Wednesday, Feb. 10, the School of Arts & Humanities, the English Department, the Redfern Arts Center and the department of Theatre and Dance kicked off the commemoration with poetry readings, music and snacks in the Mason Library’s Marion Wood reading area.
English professor Kirsti Sandy began the event by saying, “In four hundred years, think about what will last…probably nothing that is said here today, but Shakespeare will still be celebrated.”
Current faculty, professors emeritus, actors and students performed various Shakespeare readings from his large collection of work.
English professor Brinda Charry was part of the team that planned this semester-long celebration. She explained that it was a group effort to plan the Shakespeare-themed events.
“A group of us from across campus in different departments got together and decided to celebrate Shakespeare using different approaches, different artistic traditions and different intellectual traditions. He is an iconic figure in many aspects. That was the whole idea behind [the events],” Charry said.
According to the event’s program, KSC will be holding a plethora of Shakespeare themed events including film screenings, art exhibits, a live stage performance of Romeo + Juliet, a Medieval & Renaissance Forum, readings, lectures and seminars this semester.
The next homage to Shakespeare, an exhibit called “‘I lov’d my books …’: Shakespeare in Print,” can be viewed in the Mason Library from Feb. 29, through March 25.
Assistant Director of the Redfern Arts Center Sharon Fantl said she also had a role in planning the events. Fantl said she believed the success of the Shakespeare readings last Wednesday was a good start to the semester’s commemoration and allowed the audience to begin to understand Shakespeare.
“You can really see and understand the variety of work Shakespeare created and how the stories really come to life when read aloud. The language itself comes to life too,” Fantl said, “It doesn’t have to be so daunting, you can fall into it and understand it. His words are so beautiful to listen to and they come off the page.”
To allow for Shakespeare’s work to “come off the page,” some of the passages performed were accompanied by live music.
A flute, clarinet, harp and vocals complimented Shakespeare’s plethora of writing.
Sophomore music major Matthew McGinnis recited a reading from Cymbeline and followed it by singing “Ouvre tes yeux bleus” by French composer Jules Massenet.
McGinnis, who got the opportunity to perform at this event because of his Opera Workshop course, said there are “so many reasons” to be celebrating Shakespeare 400 years after his death.
“He was so ahead of his time. He had such wisdom and power in his writing that I’m sure he’ll be celebrated forever. It’s not dead,” McGinnis said, “Even in 400 years from now, I think he’ll still be relatable. His themes and tropes in his writing are so dynamic.”
McGinnis explained why he thinks it’s important for students to celebrate Shakespeare.
McGinnis said, “A lot of people read ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in school or have read other assigned work by him, but there is so much more meat and feeling to his writing that extends further than a grade for a class. It’s so beautiful. So many people can appreciate it if they give it a chance, even if they don’t know a thing about theatre or poetry.”
Senior Mylynda Gill said she agreed that it’s important for KSC to “bring Shakespeare into a new light” in order for students to appreciate his works outside of class.
“It’s so important just to show how revered Shakespeare is and how well-known he still is today. I don’t think people realize how much time has passed since he lived, but by showing and celebrating his works in a transformative and lively way it shows how powerful his writing still is today,” Gill said.
Charry elaborated on the legacy of Shakespeare’s work. She said that Shakespeare is an important figure in writing for a “number of reasons.”
“Four hundred years is a long time for anyone to be remembered. I don’t believe any writers or artists of any kind can claim the kind of legacy that Shakespeare still holds,” Charry said.
Charry continued, “We wanted to celebrate that. We also want to acknowledge that we are not just talking about some man, we are talking about an institution here. It’s a cultural institution. We are not just talking about one Englishman who lived. His legacy is a cultural institution that spans on a global scale so that’s what we wanted to draw attention to here at Keene State.”
The event on Wednesday highlighted the global attention that Shakespeare’s work has received over the years.
Associate Professor of Women & Gender Studies and American Studies Patricia Pedroza recited a Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” and Charry read “Sonnet 65” in both English and a “hybrid language of Hindu and Urdu.”
In the end, Gill said she believes KSC is helping to continue to celebration of Shakespeare.
“I think that keeping the tradition alive, reciting his poetry, reading his plays and keeping any and all manuscripts or work of his in the public eye is essential to keeping Shakespeare alive,” Gill said, “He is such a notorious writer and an inspiration to many other famous works and Keene State is part of keeping that tradition alive.”
Stephanie McCann can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.