Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Birthday of the Bard

Birthday Bard
April 23, 2014 will mark the 450  birthday of William Shakespeare, the playwright and poet who had an immense influence on Western literature and culture.  Shakepeare’s plays have been translated into more than 100 languages.  Performances of his work take place in theatres, high school gyms and outdoor spaces and countless other venues all over the world.

 His plays have also formed the basis of many Hollywood offerings, from West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) to Forbidden Planet (The Tempest) and Akira Kursosawa’s epic Ran (King Lear).


When I was an eleven year old nerd, I asked my Anglophile grandmother for a copy of the “Collected Plays of William Shakespeare” for Christmas.  Delighted, she gifted me with a massive volume containing all of Mr. Shakespeare's works in tiny print on tissue thin leaves.
  Over the next few years, I read every single play in that volume (yes, even “Pericles”), and enjoyed all of them.  I have been lucky enough to see quite a few productions of the plays, including a Romeo and Juliet performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

This year, to mark the birthday celebration in Stratford, if you are fortunate enough to make the trip, there will be week’s work of festivities including fireworks, a procession, theatre workshops and a Shakespeare marathon.

I thought the Shakespeare marathon referred to some continuous performances of all the plays, but no, it’s an actual running marathon.  Why are so many events marked by lengthy footraces these days?  But I digress….

Closer to home, the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC will be hosting a Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House on Sunday April 6th.

Queen Elizabeth Cuts the Birthday Cake
Birthday cake, one-minute Shakespeare performances, and tours of the Folger are just some of the events on the schedule.

In addition  the Folger has recently released  all of Shakespeare’s plays as fully searchable digital texts, downloadable as pdfs, in a free, scholarly edition that makes all of its source code available as well. Taken from 2010 Folger Shakespeare Library editions edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the digital plays are an invaluable resource for students,  Shakespeare scholars and fans.

If you don't want to travel downtown, Montgomery County Public Libraries will be joining the celebrations with a performance by the Christiana Drapkin Jazz Group entitled “Shakespeare in Jazz”.  
Vocalist Drapkin celebrates the beauty and power of William Shakespeare's poetry and presents it in lively, sometimes haunting jazz arrangements originally crafted in the 1960’s.  These settings of Shakespeare’s timeless verse seem to have been mostly forgotten, and MCPL is happy to be able to bring them to a present day audience.  The performance will take place at the Olney Library 4/26/14 at 2:00 PM.

So, Happy Birthday to you, Mr. S, and thanks for all the great lines you've given us!


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