HUNT COLUMN: A toast to the Bard

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, April 27, 2022

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By Cathy Hunt

Chair, Troup  Co. Board of Education

As I sit down with my cup of coffee to peruse the news on this beautiful spring Saturday, I am reminded that I must toast the birthday of someone very important to me: William Shakespeare.

Whether or not April 23 is the Bard’s birth date is conjecture, as is true of much of whatever biography you may read. There is a legal record stating that he was baptized on April 26, 1564. 

It was common in those days to baptize infants quickly due to high mortality rates, so it seems as good a guess as any, especially since there is a record of his death on April 23, 1616. He died on his birthday? Well, maybe.

My love affair with this playwright began in the eighth grade when Miss Gloria Fortenberry led us through a reading of that perennial choice for an introduction to Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

My girlfriends and I, being fourteen like Juliet and having her same romantic notions, were enthralled. It helped that Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version was playing at the dollar theater.

If I read another Shakespeare play in high school, it must not have been a memorable experience.

But becoming an English major at LaGrange College meant that I was required to take a class devoted to the Bard. My favorite professor, Dr. Sam Hornsby, fed us an intense diet of one play a week with some poetry sprinkled in. He made sure we read a sampling of the tragedies, comedies and histories.

In a regular course of study in today’s high schools, students might study Romeo and Juliet in eighth or ninth grade, Julius Caesar in tenth grade, and Macbeth in twelfth grade. Students enrolled in my A.P. Lit class also read Hamlet, my favorite play.

And those who also signed up to take an elective course I designed called Dramatic Literature studied Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So several of my students graduated with six Shakespearean plays under their belts.

That might sound like torture to some adults, not to mention teenagers. But I strove to make Shakespeare as interesting as my mentors Miss Fortenberry and Dr. Hornsby did. I knew that, as with just about any subject, the students’ enjoyment and enthusiasm would directly relate to mine. I hope that I succeeded many more times than I didn’t.

Why is a four hundred year old playwright still so important?

There’s not nearly enough space here for me to hold forth on that. The fact that his plays are still performed in hundreds of professional, amateur, and school venues around the world each year shows that there must be something to him – something about his timeless understanding of human foibles and triumphs, his often wicked sense of humor, his gift of expression.

Culturally literate folks recognize and understand the abundant allusions to his plots and characters.

The best Shakespearean actors can communicate the story in fine fashion without the often necessary footnotes. I recommend the movie version of Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and yes, Keanu Reeves, who actually acquits himself nicely. Also streaming right now is the new academy award nominated Macbeth starring Denzel.

“Words, words, words,” says Hamlet. Yes, a lot of them, and they are frequently magical.