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Shakespeare's candle burns bright at age 443


April 20, 2007

Happy birthday, William Shakespeare! How time flies. How did you get to be 443, and still be so much alive?

ASU's Department of English has planned an entire day of festivities to celebrate the Bard's birthday April 23 on the Tempe campus.

The community is invited to attend all of the events, which are free. And though the performers may be the only ones in costume, Bradley Ryner, assistant professor of English, says, “I wouldn't discourage anyone who wanted to from donning a doublet and hose!”

Ryner is chair of the event, which has been in the planning stages since last October.

The day begins with festivities hosted by the English Club, from 8 a.m. to noon on the Alumni Lawn. These include live readings, performances of short scenes and parodies, and “general merriment and reveling.”

From 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., about 90 students from Fountain Hills High School and the New School for Arts and Academics will perform “A Midsummer Night's Dream” on Alumni Lawn, alternating in scenes to create a full production.

“A Midsummer Night's Dream” is Shakespeare's beloved romantic comedy that portrays the adventures – and mis-adventures – of four young Athenian lovers.

The audience is invited to stay for one scene or all.

“Bring a picnic lunch,” Ryner says

The finale is “Shakespeare's Multimedia Birthday Party,” from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Coor Hall, room 120. This event will include scenes and soliloquies, live Elizabethan music, a reading of select sonnets and an illustrated talk on Shakespeare in film.

Shakespeare's contemporaries probably never dreamed that his works would be so oft-performed and read more than four centuries after his birth.

“Shakespeare was popular in his own day, but he was just one of many popular playwrights,” Ryner says. “By the time the English Civil War closed the playhouses in 1642, Shakespeare's plays were considerably less popular than those in the tragic comedic style of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.”

Shakespeare's works only gained popularity, Ryner adds, “when they were significantly rewritten by playwrights such as William Davenant (whose Tempest adds several characters, including a sister for Miranda to play up the lover's plot) and Nahum Tate (who gave ‘King Lear' a happy ending).

“Today, printed editions of Shakespeare are much more scrupulous about preserving Shakespeare's original language, but in many ways we rewrite Shakespeare every time we perform him because each production brings the script to life differently.

“In fact, Shakespeare has survived so long precisely because no matter how many times we return to him we can still find something new, exciting, and relevant in his plays.”

Meanwhile, if you close your eyes and listen closely, you can hear the Bard himself, whispering, “ … The sun begins to gild the western sky, and now it is about the very hour … ” (“Two Gentlemen of Verona”).

It's about the very hour to make plans to “brush up your Shakespeare” (“Kiss Me, Kate”) April 23.

For more information, contact Ryner at (480) 965-4182 or Bradley.ryner@asu.edu.