The Pacific Lutheran University English department marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death last Thursday with events including a Shakespearean Insult Smackdown yelled at each other through bullhorns, a sonnet competition and prop-based improv. We asked professor Nancy Simpson-Younger to shine some light on the “Deathaversary.”

Why did the English Department decide to put on the “Deathaversary”?

We wanted to do something to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which is being commemorated in a number of ways around the world. The Folger Shakespeare Library sent a copy of the First Folio (published in 1623) to every state, for example, and the BBC staged a star-studded tribute featuring actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and even Prince Charles. The Shakespeare Association of America gave Shakespeare a jazz funeral in New Orleans at a recent conference. So, PLU wanted to mark the anniversary, as well, in a way that highlighted what we do here – with teaching, writing, acting, and coffee of course.IMG_9525

What activities did the event host?

1:30 – Shakespearean Insult Smackdown. We drew insults from plays like “As You Like It” and “Much Ado about Nothing” out of a hat. Then, in character, we yelled them loudly through ornamental bullhorns.

1:45 – Early Modern Food! We ate tasty Renaissance treats like saffron rice balls, courtesy of ASPLU, and heard about recipes and manuscripts from Shakespeare’s era. We also learned to read secretary hand, which is a cursive script contemporary with Shakespeare’s time period. Thanks to EMROC, a digital humanities project that makes manuscripts available online, we were able to read a seventeenth-century description of Lavender Spike, which is a herb that would have been used in cooking and medicinal applications.

2:15 – Sonnet Competition. Readings and Prize-Givings. Students and faculty submitted sonnets, and there were prizes in categories like Funniest Sonnet and Most Shakespearean Sonnet.

2:45 – Prop-Based Improv. English majors and others produced a version of a courtship scene in “The Tempest,“ using children’s toys as props.

3:40 – Closing Performance by the cast of Shatter’d (an adaptation of Richard II).

How did students get involved with supporting the event, especially theatre students and the actresses/actors in “Shatter’d?”

Jacob Viramontes and the cast of “Shatter’d” did an encore performance that showcased the psychological torment Richard underwent as his crown was taken from him.

Students were instrumental in supporting our activities. Julianna Schaus co-curated the library exhibit; Elsa Kienberger and Madeline Scully coordinated the early modern snacks with the chefs and ASPLU. Jacob Viramontes and the cast of “Shatter’d” agreed to stage a scene from their original adaptation of one of the most compelling history plays. Students from all across campus submitted sonnets to the competition ◼︎

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