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Bringing ‘the magic of Shakespeare’ to life

On Wednesday morning, Snell Library at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity trans­formed into an inter­ac­tive class­room for more than two dozen home­schooled stu­dents to learn about Shake­speare and the his­tory of the book.

Erika Boeck­eler, an assis­tant pro­fessor of Eng­lish, and Uni­ver­sity Libraries staff arranged the event for chil­dren who are par­tic­i­pating in a non­profit edu­ca­tional pro­gram called All the World’s a Stage Players. The Lit­tleton, Mass.-based pro­gram is focused on teaching home­schooled stu­dents about Shake­speare and facil­i­tating full-​​length pro­duc­tions of his plays.

Mem­bers of the non­profit pro­gram first learned of Boeckeler’s research interest in Shake­speare through an Internet search that pro­duced a lec­ture on the play­wright that she once gave to North­eastern alumni. The orga­ni­za­tion promptly invited Boeck­eler to speak to stu­dents, but the pro­fessor offered the chil­dren one better: a chance to visit North­eastern for an inter­ac­tive learning ses­sion using the resources avail­able in Uni­ver­sity Archives and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions.

“It’s exciting to see how the magic of Shakespeare’s lan­guage cre­ates a nat­ural bridge between the work and resources of our uni­ver­sity and the inter­ests of the local com­mu­nity,” Boeck­eler said. “We loved seeing the young actors’ ‘wow!’ reac­tions as they dis­cov­ered that the drama of book-​​making is what made Shakespeare’s dramas avail­able for them to per­form today.”

Through a series of hands-​​on work­sta­tions, stu­dents explored how books have pro­gressed from the manuscript-​​to dig­ital era. The dis­plays included nine pieces from the library’s rare books col­lec­tion dating from 1598 to 1787.

Stu­dents also learned about the inven­tion of the printing press and how early book illus­tra­tions were done. At the dig­ital book sta­tion, research and instruc­tion librarian Amanda Rust explained how the foot­notes in dif­ferent edi­tions of plays such as “Hamlet,” which the stu­dents are cur­rently studying, change how the play is read.

The work­sta­tions were run by Boeck­eler, Rust, assis­tant archivist Michelle Romero, pro­fes­sional book­maker and former North­eastern lin­guis­tics lec­turer Sarah Hulsey and Eng­lish grad­uate stu­dent Kasra Gorbeninejad.

Prior to the inter­ac­tive ses­sion, Boeck­eler gave a lec­ture enti­tled “The New­fan­gled Media of Shakespeare’s Era,” in which she described the pro­lif­er­a­tion of books in the early modern period after the inven­tion of the printing press. She described how Shakespeare’s works fit into the story of the book’s evo­lu­tion – including how three very dif­ferent ver­sions of  “Hamlet” were printed during Shakespeare’s life­time and shortly after his death.

Later, stu­dents com­pared and con­trasted the famous “To be or not to be” solil­oquy in sev­eral dig­ital edi­tions of the famous play.

“This was a won­derful expe­ri­ence for our stu­dents,” said Leslie McLeod-​​Warrick, director of All the World’s a Stage Players. “This event has made this so much more real to them.”

– by Greg St. Martin

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