This year is a special one for Shakespeare lovers around the world, marking the 400th anniversary of his death. The festivities reached fever pitch on April 23, the Bard’s birthday (and the day he died). But there’s no reason to stop there — here are some of the best WordPress blogs celebrating the life and work of the most influential author in the English literary tradition.
Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, DC, holds the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, and is an invaluable resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person and provides unparalleled access to a huge array of resources — from original documents to modern interpretations, and from powerful performances to groundbreaking exhibitions and research.
As part of its ambitious educational mission, the Folger maintains a buzzing network of blogs that appeal to wide audiences. Among these is Shakespeare & Beyond: a space where 21st-century readers can find accessible, engaging updates about recent discoveries in Shakespeare studies, surprising pop culture connections to his texts, and fascinating stories from the archives of theater history.
Esther French, a Communications Associate at the Folger and a frequent contributor to the blog, explains why Shakespeare continues to speak to contemporary audiences:
Shakespeare’s plays take us on such a complicated journey of the human heart, with all its self-centered desires and machinations, but also its yearning to love and to be a part of something greater than itself. Working at the Folger has deepened my understanding of just how much the world in which Shakespeare lived has in common with our world today. Humanity with all its problems hasn’t changed that much, and we’re still grappling with many of the same societal issues, just in different forms.
From avant-garde productions to homemade YouTube videos, the web is exploding with visual interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. You can find some of the best at BardBox, curated by film historian Luke McKernan. Check out, for example, this lovely animated rendition of The Tempest by 10-year-old students from Bloxham, UK:
At Interesting Literature, English lecturer Oliver Tearle uncovers fascinating stories about writers and literary works, from the canonical to the obscure. Dig in his Shakespeare-related archives to find posts on unfounded Shakespeare myths, the best books about the Bard, and more.
As a blogger who seeks out the interesting and lesser-known aspects of literature, it is just as important for me that we appreciate the less-famous Shakespeare plays alongside the famous ones. Cymbeline, for example, is a wonderful mixture of comedy, tragedy, fantasy, history, and romance: almost as if all of his plays had been rolled into one. Every time I revisit Shakespeare with the intention of blogging about him, I discover something new.
Shakespeare’s work has been adapted into numerous media over the centuries — including webcomics, Ben Sawyer’s format of choice at Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth. Here is one strip depicting the playwright in the midst of composing Much Ado about Nothing (be sure to visit the full comic to see the fun twist at the end):
How does one go about transforming a major literary figure into a character in a comic? Ben writes:
Like a lot of people, I first came to enjoy Shakespeare through having a fantastic English teacher, who seized attention with a brace of Henry V movies before getting textual. As an adult, Shakespeare became a much bigger part of my life when I took up acting, getting to enjoy the characters and the language up close.
Making Shakespeare the star of my webcomic as well as the inspiration wasn’t part of the plan at first, but I’ve really enjoyed turning the icon into a character. In my cartoons Will doesn’t know that he’s a genius, but would like everyone to think he is anyway. Which is probably how most artists see the world…
Aiming to prove that actors can pierce through the rich text of the plays regardless of age or gender, the One Take Shakespeare competition invited young women aged 13-18 to send short clips based on soliloquies written for male characters. The competition — organized by the Donmar Warehouse and St Ann’s Warehouse (theaters in London and New York, respectively) — is now closed, but a collection of entries lives on, like this powerful take on Shylock’s key speech in The Merchant of Venice, performed by Laura Woodhouse:
John Kelly set out to read the entire Shakespeare corpus — histories, sonnets, and all — during this landmark year. He documents his progress (along with his adventures in England as a recent transplant) in thoughtful essays at Shakespeare Confidential; his latest, recounting a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon during peak #Shakespeare400 fever, is both timely and poignant.
In the fifth grade my Language Arts teacher had our class perform scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Staying true to the theatrical conventions of Shakespeare’s day, a male classmate dressed as Thisbe, a female character, donning a blue gingham dress, red high heels, and a curly blonde wig. As a prop, he wielded a comically outsized lollipop.
But during his stage debut, my peer struggled to deliver his lines while crossing the stage costumed as Dorothy in a candy store in Oz: he fell flat on his face. And his giant lollipop came crashing down with him, shattering into a thousand bits of sugary shrapnel.
Shakespeare died 400 years ago, but, like those innumerable pieces of my old classmate’s lollipop, we find his legacy in every last corner of our literary, linguistic, and cultural floor. We use many of the words he coined in everyday speech. We quote his verses in times of love, crisis, or great import. And we continue to draw from and adapt his stories and characters for our many screens.
Like John Kelly above, Bill Walthall is planning to read and comment on all of Shakespeare’s plays — but he’s taking a more slow-cooked approach. Blogging and podcasting about the other Bill since 2009, he’s scheduled to conclude his odyssey in August 2017. In the meantime, he also shares news and updates from the wide world of Shakespeare fanatics, as well as fantastic study aids, like this infographic charting the (many) violent deaths in the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays, Titus Andronicus.