More than 450 years after William Shakespeare’s birth, the Bard of Avon remains one of the most indelible and influential authors of all time. His works continue to find relevance and meaning today; as their subtlety and wit and understanding of human drives and foibles offer a mirror which still cogently reflects society (as seen in numerous adaptions that easily translate the action to modern settings). His writings – principally plays, sonnets, and poems – remain among the most widely reproduced writings in history, and modern literature is full of allusions to his texts. His unparalleled literary influence supports contemporary poet Ben Jonson’s analysis that Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time”.
Shakespeare’s rich, colorful language is loaded with nuance and careful wordplays (the very title ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ has at least three intentional contemporary meanings), but some of this can be lost on a modern audience unfamiliar with Elizabethan English. The library offers numerous tools to help in Shakespearean scholarship, and books and articles about his works number in the tens of thousands. These can be useful for courses like Readings in Shakespeare (ENG-L 625) and Major Plays of Shakespeare (ENG-L 315) which are regularly taught at IU East, or for a more casual scholar. Additionally, IU East subscribes to several databases singularly focused on different aspects of the Bard’s writing.
Shakespeare’s works are all in the public domain and their full text can be found freely online, but these databases can add significant value to the bare text. The Shakespeare Collection examines his work, context, and influence, and includes rare materials such as prompt books (scripts with stage directions) and primary sources. Editions & Adaptations of Shakespeare allows for detailed comparison of the differences in early printings of the plays and poems. Shakespeare in Performance focuses on the influential staging of plays in subsequent generations, including material about costume designs and music choices.
Experiencing Shakespeare’s plays, though, is best done as it was in the 1590s and 1600s – by watching them performed. Videos of the BBC-Time/Life productions of 37 of the plays include comedies like All’s Well That Ends Well or The Merry Wives of Windsor, tragedies like Othello or Titus Andronicus, and histories like Richard II or Henry V, starring distinguished actors like Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Claire Bloom, Ben Kingsley, and Alan Rickman.
You can also see Shakespeare performed live – the Brown Box Theatre Project is presenting “Much Ado About Nothing” on July 29 at 8:00 p.m. in the Starr-Gennett Pavilion in the Whitewater Gorge Park (free, and no reservation required). In advance of the performance, Morrisson-Reeves Library is offering an interactive workshop on July 27 at 6:00 p.m. (the presentation is free, but register in advance here – masking will be required). The workshop will be appropriate for a variety of audiences, not just lifelong lovers of Shakespeare. You can contact Jenie Lahmann at Morrisson-Reeves (765-966-8291 or email@example.com) for more information about the workshop, or Alice Corvo at Brown Box Theatre Project (802-373-5246 or firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information about the performance.
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