Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

We may never know for sure if today is really Shakespeare’s birthday – but why let that stop us from celebrating?

Delicious-looking Bard-themed cake!*

We here at Shakespeare in Action wish the Bard a very happy 447th! This year we’ve been invited to participate in the Happy Birthday Shakespeare blog project, which is exactly what it sounds like – bloggers all over the world joining together to wish Will a happy one. Click here to find out more about this project and read the other blog posts! It is being run by the great people at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

We thought we’d honour the Bard by writing a little bit about why we love his plays, how we first encountered his language, and just what makes him so special to us.

Laboni Islam, Education & Outreach Coordinator:

I met Shakespeare in middle school, where some students put on a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It was an acrobatic adaptation – the fairies sprung and flung off trampolines and vaulted over things.

In high school, I did what most students do, tracked the patterns of light and dark in Romeo and Juliet, deconstructed Macbeth’s ambition,  contemplated poor Yorick’s skull – imbued each word, phrase, and passage with such meaning, knowing that a third of my final grade rest on how well I accomplished the task.

Then when I was on the flip side and teaching, we had an annual Shakespeare production.  I worked with some amazing Grade 6, 7, and 8 students on four shows – The Tempest, Macbeth, As You Like It, and Henry IV I & II (abridged, of course – that was an ambitous year).  There were many memorable moments, one of the funniest when, in the final fight, in the final scene, in the final performance of Macbeth, Macbeth’s exhausted sword split in half.  Young Siward, slain and dead upon the ground, was generous enough to toss the stunned Macbeth his sword.  Such fun!

And so it has continued.

I return to Shakespeare’s work time and time again because he was so perceptive – he paid attention to people.  He understood a range of human motivations, actions, and experiences.  He packaged it all into compelling stories and astute metaphors: hope, a lover’s staff; glory, a circle in the water; our life, a mingled yarn; the world, a stage.  He [gave] to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.

Kathleen Keenan, Senior Administrative & Production Intern:

I can’t remember how or when I first encountered Shakespeare, but I know when I first started to really understand Shakespeare: grade 11 English class. We read Macbeth, and thanks to a great teacher I fell in love with this tale of witches, magic, murder and mayhem. (The previous year I had absolutely hated reading Romeo and Juliet.) Part of the reason our class loved this play so much was due to our teacher’s belief that Shakespeare should be read aloud and acted out in the classroom. We filmed our own version of the famous opening scene where Macbeth encounters the witches, and put together the soundtrack, costumes, and set design ourselves. We also spent a lot of time reading scenes from the play aloud and puzzling over what the words meant.

It’s now a few years later, and after several university courses in Shakespeare, a couple of fantastic play-going experiences (from the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival to student theatre at Queen’s University), and even the opportunity to teach a Shakespeare for Kids workshop, I still think the best thing about Shakespeare is how alive and fun his language can be. Shakespearean language is meant to be experienced, whether onstage, in film or just with a group of friends reading aloud.

And now, having seen Shakespeare in Action’s production of Romeo and Juliet more than a few times, I finally get the appeal of that particular play! And so I wish the Bard a very happy birthday – he’s enriched countless lives and given us plays to read, study and perform for many years to come.

Patricia Sarantakos, Creative Environment Intern:

Happy Birthday Shakespeare! Oh how you have touched my life! So, why do I love Shakespeare so much? My love for Shakespeare started in Grade 12, when my class had to read King Lear. At first I dreaded reading Shakespeare because I did not understand what he was trying to say! But my teacher got us excited about reading King Lear and broke every sentence down for us, making it understandable for the class. From that moment on, I began to love Shakespeare. What I love about his work is that it allows you to use your imagination and create your own interpretation of his stories.  You can relate his stories to everyday life, even today. His words are beautiful- if only we could all describe our love for someone the way Shakespeare did!

I now work for a company whose focus is to make Shakespeare more understandable and enjoyable for students. I love seeing kids get excited about Shakespeare!  We’ve laughed and cried with Shakespeare and will continue to dig through his stories for years to come!

Jaclyn Scobie Scoger, Senior Administrative & Production Intern:

It’s one thing to read Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  I first studied Shakespeare in High School for the required plays, but I never truly experienced Shakespeare until I was bringing alive his scripts onstage.  That is when I truly felt the beauty of his words and poetry.  It is like silk to speak those words.  I did not understand the meaning of a seemingly foreign language when reading it in school, and without a connection to reading it and understanding, I did not feel the spark of passion inside myself toward it.

That all changed for me when I first spoke and brought to life the words written in front of me, without a script in hand, but free to be that character.  I owned those words.  And instead of seeming like a foreign language, and forcing myself to interpret and understand, I experienced his lines.  I felt his lines.  And to speak those melodic words…It opened a world to me that I continue to crave and search for opportunities to live again.  It didn’t resonate from reading it, and it didn’t fully resonate with me to hear it performed by others.

All this to say:  There is nothing like experiencing Shakespeare’s works for yourself.  Pick up a play or sonnet and read it out, feel his words, for yourself.  Look into the depth of the lines and what his words mean to you.  It changed my life as an actor.

The Shakespeare in Action team obviously loves Shakespeare; he’s the inspiration behind our company, after all. But what’s great about the Bard is that each of us loves him for a different reason. He means so many things to so many people. Once again, happiest of birthdays, Shakespeare!

* Photo credit here.


By: Kathleen

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