400 Years of Shakespeare
400 Years of Shakespeare

Miami joins in international celebration of Shakespeare

by Victoria Slater, CAS Communications Intern

This year, as the world joins in celebrating four centuries of William Shakespeare, the Miami University English Department is planning its own events to memorialize the famous playwright and his lasting influence on language and literature.

Shakespeare400 is a worldwide consortium that includes a variety of performances, programs, and exhibits to commemorate the 400 years since Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. At Miami, the English Department is observing this historic moment with opportunities, courses, and events for students to take part in, especially those in Early Modern Literature classes. This spring semester, Miami offered a number of Shakespeare classes, including Shakespeare and Film taught by Kaara Peterson, Katharine Gillespie’s class on English Literature of the Restoration, and Cynthia Klestinec’s course, The Book As/And New Media.

James Bromley, an associate professor of English, had his Intro to Shakespeare students attend the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s performance of Romeo and Juliet when the troupe stopped in Oxford during their tour on March 1. The performance was well received by his students, in particular first-year Ari Salhi.

"I liked the interesting perspective that they shared with us after the performance about the gender fluidity of many of the characters," Salhi said. "Tybalt and Benvolio were both played by girls but instead of playing them as men they played them as women. I found the perspective to be refreshing to say the least as I haven’t seen something like it before."

In addition to Shakespeare performances, Bromley said that at some point this year Miami will offer a screening of the new film adaptation of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. They will also be taking a tour of Miami University’s Havighurst Special Collectionsunit, which houses the first four volumes of Shakespeare’s folios, or books containing his collective theatrical works. Miami has owned these rare documents, each worth upwards of $100,000, since 1949, and digitized them in 2008.

"A copy of one of the first folios is touring the United States and will be on display in Cleveland," Bromley said. "I am sure many would be surprised to know we have the same first folio, plus the next three volumes, right on campus in Oxford."

This year's Literary London study abroad program is at the heart of Miami University’s Shakespeare400 celebrations this summer. Participants will visit the Globe Theatre and see multiple performances of Shakespeare's plays.

"All these events memorialize the way Shakespeare has shaped our modern understanding of things, that he is still incredibly relevant today," Bromley said. "They demonstrate how he is still significant after all this time."

Kathleen Harris, a senior Creative Writing and Professional Writing double major, has been studying Shakespeare since she first came to Miami, said many students would be surprised to know the strong influence Shakespeare has had on modern language. He coined popular phrases like "all of a sudden" and "wear your heart on your sleeve."

"Just from a language standpoint, he is incredibly relevant today, which is ironic because some people have this idea that his language is inaccessible when really it is everywhere," she said.

She added that his works have influenced modern pop culture, with movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man based on his plays The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, respectfully.

"I think that’s one of the things that makes studying Shakespeare so wonderful because now you can look at the world and everything he has influenced and you know where it came from," she said.

Harris said this celebration is a testament of Shakespeare's lasting prominence in the world of literature, and that his legacy will carry on.

"It’s amazing to see how Shakespeare influenced his contemporaries, the next generation of playwrights, and even how he is still influencing people today," she said. "After all we are having a celebration in his honor 400 years after his death; I think that says a lot about his importance."