Talk Shakespeare to me

Will Talks event explores complexities, pleasures of studying Shakespeare during BARD Fest


To celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, students in the drama department hosted a four-day BARD Fest to honor the great playwright’s famous works. One of the week’s events, Will Talks, featured 10-minute lectures on Shakespeare from five University professors. The lectures offered historical information without losing the audience in 16th century jargon.

English Prof. Katharine Maus’ lecture, “How Shakespeare Starts a Play,” investigated methods of maintaining audience attention in outdoor amphitheaters without the use of microphones, lights or curtains.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays start “in medias res” — in the middle of the action — and introduce themes within the story. In “The Tempest,” the characters are trying to keep a ship afloat, foreshadowing future struggles with authority. In “Hamlet,” the beginning presents two countries who don’t understand each other and introduces the theme of confused identity.

The second talk, by Assoc. art history Prof. Douglas Fordham, explored Shakespeare’s work through illustration with a look at “The Muse of British Art.” Fordham came prepared with a slideshow of images, one of which featured the character Bottom from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Fordham said there is “no bottom to the appetite of these illustrations.”

French Prof. John Lyons spoke about “The Horror of the Undead and the Histoires tragiques.” He asserted that tragedies were “easy as apple pie” and highlighted important “ingredients” — like death, murder, being buried alive, rape and love.

This result tastes different for everyone, Lyons said. Is “Romeo and Juliet” a romance or a horror story? It all depends on your perspective.

Assoc. English Prof. Clare Kinney kept things flowing smoothly with a “brief, self indulgent” talk called “Shakespeare in Brief: Some Small, Powerful Words.” She asserted Shakespeare is not wordy; rather, many lines are clear and direct. Elaborate wordplay highlights the sharpest, most heightened moments where emotional barriers are broken. Kinney demonstrated this quite clearly, as her voice trembled and she started to cry while reading a piece from “King Lear.”

Drama department fight director Colleen Kelly concluded the series of lectures. She showed off a Shakespearian rapier and called up two audience members to stage a single fight action from “Romeo and Juliet.”

Though each was unique, the lectures were equally impressive. Each speaker clearly knew their subject matter and succeeded in showcasing the complex pleasures of reading Shakespeare. Bravo!

Published April 28, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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