The plays of William Shakespeare often strike fear into the students who are required to read them. Although Shakespeare’s works have been analyzed and dissected in almost every high school English class, the language and assumptions attached to them usually throw teens into a panic.
“Shakespeare is meant to be performed, and you can’t do that in a classroom,” said Michele Douglas, an English teacher at Graves County High School. “It is much easier for my students to understand when they see it.”
The stigma attached to Shakespeare is something that Ralph Cohen and the American Shakespeare Center have been working more than 20 years to debunk. When the group takes its act to the Murray Shakespeare Festival on Monday for the 10th year in a row, it will preach its message to a new group of students and community members.
“For people who are forced to learn it, Shakespeare has been turned into a monster,” said Ralph Cohen, co-founder and director of the American Shakespeare Center. “But for centuries people have responded to it. They see themselves in it.”
The Murray Shakespeare Festival is a five-day celebration of all things Shakespeare. The American Shakespeare Center will perform three plays — “Macbeth,” “As You Like It” and “Measure for Measure” — in front of several crowds, including high school students from Graves and 16 other area high schools. The plays will incorporate singing, scenery and actors.
“It is different seeing highly trained people perform this,” said William Jones, chairman of the festival. “For this group of people, Shakespeare is their life. Their work is to make it easy and fun.”
Douglas said: “The students that aren’t excited come away from our trip to Murray with a new understanding. It really enriches the classroom and enhances the experience.”
The group will also offer workshops for the public throughout the week. While some of the classes focus on the plays themselves, others focus on aspects of aspects of stage, like speaking in verse and stage combat. Murray State will also supplement the week’s festivities with lectures by professors and the MSU Fencing Club’s performance of the Macbeth fencing scenes.
“We break down that sense of it being old or historic,” Cohen said. “This is fun, it’s entertaining. It’s an entirely different experience.”
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652.
Want to go
- What: The Murray State Shakespeare Festival
- Where: Murray State campus
- When: Monday-Feb. 18
For a full schedule of plays and events, visit MurrayState.edu/shakespeare