Sword Fights and Sad Tales? Must Be Shakespeare

By Salomonsson, Rebecca | The Christian Science Monitor, June 5, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Sword Fights and Sad Tales? Must Be Shakespeare

Salomonsson, Rebecca, The Christian Science Monitor

Drumbeats and tambourines echoed off the high-rise buildings and into the bright May sky, as excited students waved school banners through the air and chanted, "Will Power, Will Power - Shakespeare!"

It's the 23rd annual Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival, a day that honors the most influential playwright and poet who ever lived.

As the marchers paraded proudly through the streets of Denver in colorful costumes - elegant gowns, velvet vests, feathered caps, and even some fairy wings - they cheered, whistled, and whooped as observers poured out of nearby downtown offices to smile and wave.

During his lifetime (1564-1616), William Shakespeare wrote about 37 plays and 154 sonnets (poems made up of 21 lines) - as well as several longer poems.

Plays of his that you might have heard of include "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Hamlet," and "As You Like It."

Some people find Shakespeare's language difficult to understand because it's old-fashioned. For example, his characters use the words "thee" and "thou" to address one another. Have you heard anyone use those words in conversation lately?

But it may surprise you to know that Shakespeare invented many words we still use today - such as amazement, lonely, and misplaced. (See box on next page for more.)

His works have continued to be loved and appreciated for nearly 400 years - by people old and young - as evidenced by the festival in Denver.

"I was told that it would never work, that kids would never want to do Shakespeare," says Joe Craft, founder of the event. But it did work, and kids do want to do Shakespeare.

"We started with 400 students from eight schools in 1985," Craft continues. "We've grown to 4,000 students from 88 schools."

Madison Rykman, a student at the Denver School of the Arts, explained people's love of Shakespeare's works when she spoke at the festival's opening ceremony.

"William Shakespeare continues to provoke, enthrall, and inspire us even today," she said. "Not just because of his beautiful language, but because he connects with the human experience, with all of us, in a way that few other playwrights have."

Stephanie Hobbs, a teacher at Barrett Elementary, has been bringing students to the Shakespeare festival for 16 years. "The plays are universal," she explains. "That's what these kids see. They have fights now, they had fights then. They fell in love then, they fall in love now. Once [students] get past the language, they see things [in the plays] that they're doing every day of their lives."

Shakespeare wrote "All the world's a stage," and the streets of Denver became the stages for the students as they took their places at 11 outdoor locations.

There gentlemen engaged in sword fights, ladies told sad tales of broken hearts, noblemen shouted out joyful expressions of love, and fairies played tricks on people - as students performed short scenes from Shakespeare's plays.

Some were funny, some were sad, but each scene was alive with energy and excitement.

The stages were named after theaters that existed in Shakespeare's day - such as the Rose, Blackfriars, and the Globe.

Students had to project their voices over the sounds of noisy traffic from nearby streets, airplanes flying overhead, and crowds of people passing by.

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